PASADENA — Fear haunts King's Villages in Northwest Pasadena, tenants say.
Drive-by shootings on adjacent Hammond Street and drug dealers within the 313-unit, low-income housing project contribute to the unease. Members of the Tenants Union recite a litany of maintenance and privacy complaints against Thomas Pottmeyer & Co., manager and co-owner of the complex.
Now, the Jan. 18 death of Robert Earl Holloway, 28, a supposed trespasser who was chased down and wrestled into submission by four King's Villages security guards, has prompted an investigation by Pasadena police. It has also drawn a hard look at the complex from the Pasadena Board of Directors, who toured it last week.
On Tuesday, the board ordered an unprecedented, $20,000 unit-by-unit inspection of King's Villages to check compliance with city Building, Health and Fire codes. In addition, the board agreed to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, project tenants and majority owner Goldrich, Kest & Associates, to change the project's ownership. The board wants to form a tenant cooperative, nonprofit housing corporation, or other form of management to let tenants help run the complex, which is the city's largest low-income housing project.
"It won't be easy," cautioned Director Rick Cole, who proposed the change in ownership, "but it offers us perhaps the only solution to the situation we've heard about."
And the situation at the 26-acre project is grave, said Tenants Union President De-Vera Joe. She claims that reduced trash pickups have led to piles of garbage crawling with maggots. She also complains of raw sewage collecting in pools outside some apartments, broken glass littering the lawn and tenant requests for plumbing and electrical repairs going unanswered.
About 50 evictions from the projects were referred last year to the Fair Housing Council of San Gabriel Valley when tenants protested they were unfair. About half were reversed, said council member Isaac Richards, who also sits on the city's Northwest Task Force.
"You're constantly in fear of getting a little (eviction) notice," Joe said. "People are afraid here."
"The security guards do what they want," added Lisa Hogan, a tenant evicted last April.
Robert Hirsch, a partner in Goldrich, Kest & Associates who appeared at Tuesday's council meeting, admitted that King's Villages has its problems. Hirsch said he could not respond to any of the specific complaints because he is not the project's on-site manager.
In a phone interview, Pottmeyer denied tenant allegations of mismanagement. "We have done a tremendous amount of work in the 15 months I've been there," Pottmeyer said. "The project is tremendously better."
All evictions have been according to law, he said. In addition, he said, King's Villages is regularly inspected by HUD and follows HUD regulations.
He declined to counter in detail other complaints, most of which he said came from former tenants.
Hirsch told the board: "The development has turned around 1,000% to the better since Mr. Pottmeyer took over management." Drug dealers have been evicted and tenant safety has been improved, he said. To counter what Pottmeyer perceived as past discrimination against Latinos, the manager has allowed 40 Latino families to move into the project, Hirsch said.
In addition, more than half of the apartments have been repainted or recarpeted and new appliances installed in the past two years, he said.
Hirsch's view is bolstered in part by Melvin Lim, a city Health Department supervisor in charge of inspections at King's Villages.
As a result of tenant complaints in July last year, the Health Department began regular, weekly inspections at the complex. Because of landlord cooperation and compliance, those inspections have been reduced to once a month, Lim said.
In addition, the Health Department conducted 13 inspections last year after tenants complained of clogged sewer lines, cockroach infestation and other maintenance problems. "I've seen worse apartments than King's Villages," Lim said, but he hesitated to call the complex "well-kept" and said it was "just maintained."
Nonetheless, Hirsch said many tenants have thanked the company for improving conditions at the project. Those who complain represent only a "very small minority," he said, adding, "You've got two sides to every income property, the tenants and the owners."
The project opened in 1969 as King's Manor at a time when giant, low-income housing projects were still the preferred, affordable housing mode.
But HUD foreclosed on the property after the three original developers went bankrupt, Hirsch said. The still-uncompleted project reverted to city hands. In 1982, the city turned to private management as the solution to the project's woes and selected as new owners Goldrich, Kest & Associates, a Culver City-based company with 10,000 HUD projects in California.