JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A day after their low-income rental high rise squeaked through an important inspection, John Sevier Center (JSC) residents on Friday found what seemed a distressing notice on their doors: the landlord was asking a federal agency to approve rent increases of more than $400 per apartment.
That landlord said Monday none of those increases, if they’re approved, will come out of residents’ pockets. Several residents said they couldn’t interpret that from the notices — and that meant a stressful weekend for many of the downtown building’s nearly 150 tenants.
“It’s got this place all in a complete tizzy and disarray,” Jon Lee, who’s lived in an eighth-floor apartment at the building for three-and-a-half years.
“When you hand me a piece of paper like this on a Friday afternoon at 5 o’clock and go home for the weekend, I’m stuck with a piece of paper that says I now have to pay $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment. That’s the way it reads to us.”
LHP Management manages the property for the Johnson City Development Authority (JCDA). It plans to request the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) increase the “maximum permissible rents” at JSC from $540 to $990 monthly for efficiency units and from $635 to $1,075 for one-bedroom apartment’s like Lee’s.
Representatives for LHP — the same company slated to construct all-new apartments in south Johnson City for JSC residents — said if the rent request is approved if will be a win for residents, the JCDA and LHP. That’s because the extra funding flowing in to JCDA, potentially more than $700,000 a year, will come from the federal government through HUD, not from the residents or any local source.
Because JSC is HUD-subsidized assisted housing, residents’ rent is capped at 30% of their monthly gross income with some deductions for things like medical expenses. LHP Development CEO Alvin Nance said Monday whatever the new rent level, residents like Lee and Mary Scherzinger won’t see their out-of-pocket costs change unless their income changes.
But Lee said Friday’s notice should have spelled out the fact that if new rates are approved they won’t impact tenants. He said it exemplifies a pattern he believes has gotten worse in recent months.
“There’s not a good quality communication between the offices and the tenant as to actually what’s going on,” Lee said.
LHP’s Nance acknowledged the property management team came up short with the posting of Friday’s notices.
“We should have done a better job of getting ahead of that and letting the residents know,” he told News Channel 11.
Nance also said, though, that a successful application should give JCDA and LHP the ability to address issues with the nearly century-old building that have hampered residents’ quality of life. He said LHP wants to follow through on a desire to provide some subsidies for laundry services that could actually lower costs for residents and to improve their access to cable.
“This is how we would pay for these new services,” Nance said.
He said any increase in HUD subsidy stood no chance of approval before last week’s “Real Estate Assessment Center” (REAC) inspection of the building. After failing inspections in 2015 and 2017 with scores below 50, JSC earned a 69 last week — not a strong score by any means, but above the minimum required 60.
“They were not going to approve something with a failed REAC score,” Nance said.
He said LHP is following HUD guidelines for a “rent study” that a consultant, CGI, will conduct is following HUD guidelines and that LHP is “very hopeful” that HUD will approve an increase at or near the rate published in the notice.
For a nearly 100-year-old building that everyone agrees is in poor condition, a potential monthly revenue increase of more than $60,000 could help fund repairs, “rising maintenance and labor costs” referenced in the notice to residents, and the new amenities Nance mentioned.
Lee said after hearing that explanation, “the light bulbs went on and everything and now it makes total sense that we can still actually afford to live here.”
He said LHP, which took over property management last year, would do well to communicate much more than residents perceive that it has. As an example, he said his toilet has been running consistently for more than a week since water maintenance occurred the weekend of June 11, but he hasn’t been able to get a straight answer about when to expect it to be fixed.
“When I first moved in we used to get a newsletter almost weekly telling us what was going on,” Lee said. “Something along those lines would be helpful. Residents are frustrated and feel like they’re really being left in the dark about things.”