Rep. Rick Allen says Bon Air Apartments in Augusta 'needs to be completely renovated'
When Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Allen met with Bon Air Apartments' managers on Wednesday, he had a clear message.
"This thing needs to be completely renovated," he said. "It's not up to par... if I had left there without their commitment to restore this property based on what they handed us here today, this meeting would've been over very quickly, and I would've been approaching HUD about dealing with the situation."
Allen has already made inquiries into the status of the Section 8 apartment complex in the Summerville neighborhood. The visit was a follow-up, and Allen was joined by Augusta Commissioner Catherine Smith McKnight and José Alvarez, administrator for the southeast region of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency. They toured the property and asked what Redwood Housing Partners, the holding company, plans to do, and it seems the renovation will be coming piece by piece.
Previously: New safety violations surface, but Bon Air owner awaits big-ticket fix
More: Congressman Rick Allen calls on HUD to investigate Bon Air apartments in Augusta
"What they've committed to us is they're gonna do a better job of communication," he said. "They are waiting on some tax credits and things like that that you typically get with historic properties, which is typical in the development world, and we're gonna assist them with that as far as expediting."
New apartments coming
Redwood bought the complex and its downtown hotel sister, the Richmond Summit, for $26 million in late 2020. The company's acquisitions manager Nick Boehm reported earlier this spring that they have an expansion plan which includes building out empty space into 23 new units for a total of 226 and updates to security, flooring, kitchens and bathrooms. The plan will cost $45 million.
While Augusta Housing Authority has already agreed to provide bond financing, it depends on Redwood obtaining tax credits available to companies that provide low-income housing.
Redwood Housing owns multiple multifamily, low-income properties in Florida, Oregon, Washington and Ohio, among other states. Residents at some of the holding company's complexes have made complaints about shoddy renovations, problematic relocations of residents, and poor sanitation.
A HUD 2019 audit of a Miami project found the company generally implemented the Housing Assistance Program adequately but lacked "adequate policies and procedures to fully track displaced tenants and ensure accurate billing to HUD and failed to provide adequate oversight of its contractors."
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Code violations must be fixed
Bon Air also has several issues that need to be dealt with. In April, Allen called for an investigation into the property, citing, in part, an inspection by the Augusta Fire Department in March that found 19 separate code violations including, but not limited to:
Non-functioning alarm system and smoke detectors.
Missing emergency lights and exit signs.
Damaged or missing ceiling tiles vital to the sprinkler system.
Missing fire extinguishers.
Self-closing and fire-rated doors that didn’t close.
Basement and electrical rooms filled with combustible materials like rags, paper and trash.
He also cited a 2016 news report of elderly and disabled residents living in 90-degree apartments due to broken air conditioning systems. Redwood Housing Partners was not the complex's owner at that time.
In August, Allen posted a letter from HUD's Southeast Regional Administrator José Alvarez, who said Bon Air's June 14 inspection resulted in a failing grade.
The representative for Georgia's District 12, who is up for election in November, said Redwood has already addressed most of HUD's issues, and are finalizing an insurance claim to repair the damages inflicted by the May hail storm. Redwood has also added a new security system that monitors doors and corridors, according to Allen.
While no documentation of upgrades or tour of the facility was provided at the press event, Allen recommended the managers hold public forums so they can personally meet with residents in order to gauge their questions and concerns.
About Bon Air Apartments
Both Bon Air and Richmond Summitt were built as luxury hotels in the early 1920s. Since the early 1980s, they've operated as unit-based Section 8 housing that's now restricted to people with disabilities or over age 62. Occupancy is 95% to 100%, Boehm said and residents must earn less than 50% of the area median income. Residents contribute 30% of their income as rent, and one resident said her rent is $225.
Augusta Housing oversees Augusta's Section 8 voucher program, but project-based voucher units aren't directly overseen by the authority. Instead, complexes such as the Bon Air and Summit report to a fee contract manager, National Housing Compliance. Housing Authority Executive Director Jacob Oglesby along with other public housing executives from around state serve on the board of directors.
While time will tell when or if the complex will see its renovation, Allen said he felt Redwood answered all of the questions he came there with and "from every indication I got, they want to do the right thing."
Time will also tell if he will see that renovation as a congressman. Allen is up for re-election, and is facing off against Liz Johnson, a retired insurance agent from Statesboro. This year's election day is on Nov. 8.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Bon Air Apartments must be 'completely renovated;' owner awaits funds