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Raintree owner says economy, regulations stall needed repairs
Celeste Jones 1
Celeste Jones points to where a leak has damaged the ceiling of her apartment. - photo by Photo by Frenchi Jones

Meeting standards

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has set standards for property managers to meet in order to receive Section 8 and subsidized-rental contracts. As part of those standards, property managers must keep major building systems serviceable, keep properties in good condition, keep accurate records of finances, inspection review responses and management certifications, as well as promote anti-crime programs on site. The Courier made several attempts to find out whether Dewar Properties has met these standards. However, the Hinesville Housing Authority, as well as the Georgia Housing Assistance Payment, HUD sub-contractors responsible for monitoring the property management company, continuously referred the Courier to Dewar Properties Inc., for the information.

Celeste Jones climbs on a chair in her daughter’s bedroom.
She points to a brown spot in the ceiling.
“This is where the roof was leaking,” she said. “As you can see there is still a hole there. They’ve have not been in to fix it yet.”
Jones is one of several residents who have somewhat fearfully voiced discontent about the upkeep of the low-income Raintree Apartments.
On Tuesday, after a maintenance man reportedly started a fire in the laundry room of an apartment, forcing families from their homes for a day, Shantrell Smith stood in the courtyard of the apartment complex, discussing her concerns.
“We’ve been living here for three years and since the day we moved in they have been telling us they were going to remodel these apartments and every time they get ready to do it, it falls through. It never happens,” she said. “It’s because it is HUD housing … it makes us feel like we’re lower class when most of us work”
Since 2003, Dewar Properties Inc., has been responsible for the management and maintenance of the 26-building complex.
Regional manager Scott Vitatoe, with the help of the onsite manager April Rodriguez, is responsible for maintaining facilities.
Vitatoe said his agency has always taken resident complaints seriously. However, the economy and strict HUD regulations have recently impeded progress.
“We’re actually trying to purchase the property at this time,” he said. “And once we find the investors we need to purchase the property we plan to do a full renovation and rehab of the properties.
“One of the issues that we are currently having is that we don’t want to put too much effort and resources into [repairing] it now when we are going to go back and rehab it later. So it is a very fine line that we have to walk.”
In 2005, Vitatoe said, Dewar Properties were close to their renovation goals, but then the market crashed.
“We were literally hours away from the closing table on this deal, going through Washington Mutual, and because of the troubles that the bank was having, they closed down that division on us,” he said. “At this point we are still actively seeking investors for the property.”
Under the guidelines of the chapter 24 of the HUD regulations, Vitatoe said the management company is required to keep a savings account for preventive maintenance and capital replacement.
Currently, he said, Dewar Properties only has $200,000 in its reserve funds.
Vitatoe said gaining access to those funds is not easy.
“It takes a lot of time and I don’t think the residents understand that it just takes a lot of time for the government to process the application, but once it is processed we can spend that money and we have done that there. Last year, we went in and basically turned 50 units,” he said.
Despite small advances, Vitatoe said that until the economy turns around and the company gains enough interest from investors there will not be enough money to do everything that needs to be done.
“Under the [HUD] contract we have now, if all the units were leased up on the property it would bring in roughly $1.4 million per year, because of the age of the property it does cost the property almost that much to run itself every year … paying the mortgage, its staff and all the upkeep of the property,” he said.
“If we were going to fix all 26 roofs, for example, it would cost us more than $390,000,” he added. “We don’t have that.”
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