MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Despite an ambitious relocation project for what advocates estimate as up to 1,000 residents living in Peppertree, tenants tell the WREG Problem Solvers they don’t know anything about their futures and continue to live in troublesome conditions.
“The only communication anyone has received has been through the media,” said Chase Madkins, a tenant rights organizer at the Center for Transforming Communities.
Tyshiko Kent, a mother of two living in the Peppertree apartments with her 16-year-old daughter and husband, woke up to find a smashed window in her living room last week.
It adds to the sense of insecurity she already feels in her home.
“My 16-year-old daughter, who was like 15 at the time, almost got shot multiple times just walking from school,” she said.
The crime led Shelby County officials to declare the property a public nuisance in 2021. After that, multiple walkway collapses revealed severe upkeep issues.
At the same time, WREG investigators uncovered Peppertree’s owners, Germantown-based Tesco, have received more than $22 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
After our reporting and pushing from the city, the Department pulled funding in early January 2023.
HUD is now leading the relocation project.
“I was happy but I was wondering, what are you going to do in the meantime?” Kent said.
Many people are asking the same question at Peppertree as they continue to live in the same conditions that got the property shut down.
Kent also showed the Problem Solvers mold growing in her bathroom and windowsill.
“This is where the termites ate. You can see the mold growing where they told me there was no mold,” she said.
She said she reported the shattered window to management as soon as it happened.
“I was told there’s nothing they can do due to the circumstances of what’s going on with not having a contract with HUD,” she said.
Madkins has heard this as well. He is holding Peppertree tenant meetings every week and got 15 new complaints at the last one.
“People are saying they’re being flat out denied maintenance requests at this point. They’re being told to just go home or just leave,” he said.
This is not legal, according to Mayor Jim Strickland. Normally the city’s code enforcement officers would respond, but Strickland told WREG that’s not happening right now.
“We’re having discussions with HUD about those issues that they hold the owners feet to the fire and make sure those issues are taken care of,” Strickland said.
A HUD representative released a short statement to WREG: “TESCO is required to make the needed repairs.”
When we asked Tesco’s lawyer Alexander Wharton about maintenance requests being ignored, he sent this over email: “You will need to speak with HUD since they are in control of the funds to the property.”
The lack of accountability during this relocation process puts renters like Kent at risk.
“I can’t leave my home because I’m afraid somebody’s going to climb through my window,” she said. “I already suffer from anxiety and mental issues and it’s really taken a toll on me. I just want to be safe. I don’t feel safe in my own home.”
They’re now considering taking action into their own hands.
“Possibly place a mechanical lien on the property or property owners for payment,” Madkins said.
Mayor Strickland said the relocation process is expected to take several months. Renters want action as soon as possible.
Madkins has arranged tenant meetings at the Whitehaven Community Center every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. He advised those living in Peppertree to stay put until they receive the HUD assistance.
Tenants also said they had unanswered questions about paying rent; officials said they are expected to pay rent in full until they move.
As of Wednesday, MHA officials said they mailed letters to Peppertree residents last Friday. They provided the following information for people with questions:
- A tenant meeting will be held in February to provide detailed information about the relocation process and benefits that will be available. An exact date for the tenants meeting has not been determined at this time, but you will be notified as soon as a determination is made.
- Contact Leumas for Voluntary Relocation assistance – 1-888-726-8016; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact Karen Davis Rabb at HUD for additional information – email@example.com