MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A troubled apartment ownership company was back in Shelby County environmental court Wednesday to address more issues at two properties.
Memphis code enforcement officials said Serenity at Highland‘s air conditioning wasn’t working and Hope Heights’s hot water wasn’t working. The WREG Problem Solvers covered the Hope Heights hot water issue in early May. Serenity’s air conditioning also stopped working in the summer of 2022.
The Ohio-based Millennia Companies own the buildings. Millennia gets funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to operate properties for qualifying individuals.
“The air conditioning unit was struck by lightning,” Millennia attorney Ben Sissman said in court.
While getting struck by lightning is highly uncommon, the livability issues for people who live in Millennia properties have become routine.
At another building, Hope Heights, people reported both elevators stopped working.
Shelby County officials said they had not issued any citations because Millennia had promised to bring the elevators into compliance. Meanwhile, tenants told WREG they had to sleep in their cars since they couldn’t access their units. They also said the hot water had been out for nearly six weeks.
“Who wants to get up every day and boil water on the stove just so you can have hot water to bathe in?” one tenant said.
Millennia’s lawyer told the judge the hot water would be fixed Wednesday at Hope Heights and they’re waiting on a part to fix the air conditioner at Serenity by Friday. Sissman also said Millennia had provided portable air conditioning units and cooling stations.
The episode evokes memories from nearly a year ago when Memphis code inspectors suited up to check out conditions at Millennia’s Serenity at Highland property. They found issues with bed bugs, no hot water, and no air conditioning.
After the hearing, the Problem Solvers asked Millennia representatives about the constant issues and if the company had anything to say to the people who live there.
“I can’t answer those questions. I’m not authorized to answer any of those questions,” Sissman said.
He referred us to Millennia’s corporate offices in Ohio. We asked marketing and communications director Valerie Jerome the same questions.
The judge ordered Millennia back in court on Friday to determine if the hot water is fixed at Hope Heights.
Millennia sent WREG a lengthy response to our questions after Wednesday’s hearing, stating that the company was working on rehabilitation efforts at affordable housing units that had suffered from years of neglect and decline, and had already performed substantial work on the Memphis properties.
The company’s full statement is below:
To state that Millennia apartment communities have constant upkeep issues is incorrect. Since Millennia has engaged with properties in Memphis, its goal has been to facilitate substantial rehabilitations to preserve much needed affordable housing units for families, seniors, and those with disabilities. This preservation process has transformed communities that previously suffered from decades of decline, such as those you mention. Of note, the preservation process is complex and takes time to correct the wear and tear from years of neglect.
For balance in your reporting, Millennia has successfully facilitated this preservation process at more than 115 apartment communities, preserving more than 13,500 units of affordable housing. For example, Azure Estates (formerly Stonybrook) in Riviera Beach, Florida, went from a notoriously bad place to live to one where residents are thriving because of Millennia’s efforts. The process is important because, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a shortage of 217,445 units of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income households in the state of Tennessee (the U.S. has a shortage of 7.3 million affordable homes overall: https://nlihc.org/gap).
Regarding the hot water and elevator service at Hope Heights, contractors replaced the plumbing system in 2020. Millennia is researching why a new system is having issues. Previously, I shared that the leaks from the plumbing system were affecting the elevator system, so these two issues are interconnected. While parts are identified, ordered, procured, and installed, the team is working tirelessly to support the needs of residents.
At Memphis Towers, we corresponded at length about the temporary boiler in December 2022 / January 2023. To recap, a temporary boiler was put in place while the property awaited the manufacturing of a new boiler. With the temporary boiler, sometimes during high usage times, the system needed reset; this need to reset caused temporary disruption in the hot water service. The wait for the new boiler was longer than expected due to well-documented nationwide supply chain issues; however, the vendor installed the new system promptly upon receipt. The new system is part of the scope of work for the substantial rehabilitation that is underway at Memphis Towers.
The development team is working to close the preservation transaction needed to start the substantial rehabilitation at Serenity Towers. This construction project will result in a complete upgrade of the air conditioning system at this apartment community. The scope calls for PTAC units, so that the buildings will not be serviced by a centralized system; therefore, eliminating broad AC outages.
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