Activists fight for better living conditions at Memphis apartments

Activists fight for better living conditions at Memphis apartments

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - In a week, code enforcement officers will inspect the inside of Serenity Towers for the second time.

Members of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center held a news conference to highlight the plight of residents who live in these areas.

Code enforcement agents recently investigated a bed bug problem at Serenity Towers. Prior to that, GMF was ordered to clean up the crime-plagued Warren and Tulane apartments. Residents were forced out of their homes.

"We have seen the living conditions that tenants have been made to live in by Rev Richard Hamlet at Warren, Tulane and now here at Serenity Towers, but what of the tenants at his other properties like Madison Tower and Bend Tree? What of the other HUD subsidized properties owned by other companies like Peppertree or Tillman Cove? We are on the verge of a housing crisis and the Peace and Justice Center stands ready to aid in the solutions." Brad Watkins, Executive Director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said in a written statement.

The MSPJC blames the recent problems at these apartment complexes on a lack of code enforcement officers in the city of Memphis. They said there are less than 60 code enforcement officers, and these workers are often spread thin and are overwhelmed.

Serenity Towers provides housing for senior citizens and disabled people in Memphis. Last month, the complex was raided by code enforcement after complaints of a bed bug infestation.

"The least we can ask as a city is that they live out their last days, they are not devoured by bed bugs," Watkins said.

GMF said they are replacing beds in Serenity next week. They added:

  • GMF bought Serenity in March 2014
  • Roughly 285 apartments (3/4 of the units) appeared to have bed bugs when GMF acquired the property.
  • To date, GMF has spent over $200,000 on efforts to eradicate the recurring bed bug problem and that work continues – today roughly 95 units still have possible issues with bed bugs.
  • Last week Rev. Hamlet and the Global Ministries Foundation (GMF) team ordered 100 brand new bed mattresses, box springs and bed frames to offer at no charge to residents to replace the existing furniture that is the likely source of the remaining problem at Serenity.
  • These new beds are due to deliver this week.  The management team at Serenity will work swiftly with impacted residents to re-treat these units and exchange infested furniture for new and clean beds donated by GMF.   

MSPJC said they want to work with residents in these areas to hold workshops about their renter's rights, build Housing and Urban Development recognized tenants associations and partner with code enforcement to train tenants to become reserve code officers.

"A culture of neglect where they have been failed by code, by HUD, and now they have been failed by the city," Watkins said.

The protesters are demanding the city of Memphis train volunteer code enforcement officers.

"We couldn't get by with 50 police officers, but somehow we have 50 code officers and we expect these problems not to happen," Watkins said.

Tenants can become reserve code officers through an ordinance sponsored by then-City Councilman, now Mayor Jim Strickland. To read that ordinance, click here.

"By working together to give the tenants the tools to self advocate and to act as volunteer code officers, Code would have eyes and ears at our most problematic properties and tenants would have less fear of retaliation and a means of holding their landlords accountable. If the city will not support adequate code enforcement then the tenants must have the right to be able to do this for themselves." Watkins said.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.