A settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the state on behalf of residents of Clinton-Peabody public housing against the St. Louis Housing Authority and property manager McCormack Baron Salazar, regarding violations of the Missouri Merchandising Protection Act and public nuisance claims.
The lawsuit was filed in August 2018 after unhealthy and unsanitary conditions residents were forced to live in went public, revealing infestation of mice, cockroaches and mold.
“I am pleased that the St. Louis Housing Authority and McCormack Baron have taken steps since this case was filed to stem the infestations suffered by their tenants,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt stated in his settlement announcement on Monday, July 22. “The terms of the settlement will ensure that they will continue their remediation efforts and become transparent with consumers and tax payers about the housing conditions at the complex.”
Housing Authority Executive Director Alana Green, who has been in that role for seven months, said the authority is pleased with the lawsuit’s outcome and the steps taken to improve conditions at Clinton-Peabody.
“We’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that the remediation efforts were completed timely,” Green said, adding that several steps have been taken to make the property more habitable. “That includes requiring that our property management companies that we work with hires an integrated pest management staff person.”
The Housing Authority and McCormack Baron have spent over $300,000 for repairs since the suit was filed on efforts to remediate the mold, mice and bug infestations.
Green said repairs completed at Clinton-Peabody include repairing dumpsters; cleaning storm drains; plugging exterior entry points; sealing crawl spaces; plugging interior holes; replacing seals on 430 doors; removing foam plugs; sealing dryer vents; replacing 70 exterior doors; removing furnace and water heaters in 35 units so that inaccessible holes could be plugged; cleaning ductwork in 134 units; cleaning radiators in 46 units; and replacing approximately 60 stoves.
“Also, just tracking the extermination process was important as well,” she said.
Schmitt’s announcement included a statement from Vivian Williams, former Clinton-Peabody Tenant Association board president, which reads, in part, “We appreciate the positive changes that have taken place here at the Clinton-Peabody housing complex. The Clinton-Peabody has come a long way. We continue to look forward to a safer and more habitable living environment for our children and ourselves.”
Green said implementing technology to make work request response times and communication between management and tenants more efficient is another improvement.
“There is a property management software that we are converting to, and it will allow us to respond timely to work order requests,” Green said. “Residents will be able to know the status of their work order request by either coming to our office to use our computer, going to the management office ... or they can also check it on their phone.”
Previously, residents would have to call for a status update. Schmitt’s office said it will also allow residents to provide feedback. This should help address unanswered requests by tenants reporting many of the infestation problems to the management company and to St. Louis Housing Authority.
Sarah Turner, co-managing attorney of the Housing Law Program at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said they have many assisted families at Clinton-Peabody, describing the housing conditions there as substandard, persistent and widespread.
“While we have heard from tenants in some areas that there is a noticeable improvement, we continue to receive calls from other tenants reporting ongoing problems with pests and mold,” Turner told The American. “We're encouraged, however, that the Consent Judgment does require SLHA to implement a software system for tracking tenant complaints and maintenance requests, as well as management's response and tenant satisfaction. If enforced and properly implemented, such a system could be a critical, positive step toward systematically addressing some of the underlying problems that led to the deplorable conditions at Clinton-Peabody.”
Green insisted that the worst of the problem – infestation by vermin – had been removed. “The infestation itself is no longer present,” Green said. “We worked really hard – if anything was identified in the unit, we send exterminators out right away. We have systems in place now with integrated pest management staff working very closely with the exterminators and the extermination companies to really get a good handle over the situation.”
The settlement also includes a $19,000 donation from McCormack Baron Salazar to the Deaconess Foundation for a newly formed program to help Clinton-Peabody tenants in the future.
“Livable, affordable housing is critical to family flourishing and economic stability. Deaconess is pleased that the concerns of families living at Clinton-Peabody have been heard,” said Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation. “In the spirit of this settlement with the attorney general, we look forward to working with them to sustain the civic engagement and power they’ve displayed in this moment.”