Omaha apartment residents displaced due to severe code violations
Legacy Crossing Apartments occupants were told Monday morning to vacate by 5 p.m.
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha officials told residents Monday morning at an apartment complex in the northwest part of the city that they needed to relocate because of safety concerns.
“Six days before Christmas makes this a very difficult decision, but we must be proactive,” Mayor Jean Stothert said in a news release Monday.
NEED HELP? Legacy Crossing residents in need of assistance finding housing were advised to contact Heartland Family Service at 402-552-7400 or 531-200-3500.
According to the release, Omaha Fire and housing inspectors began the morning relocating residents at the apartment complex, located near 105th and Fort streets, due to “severe fire and housing code violations.”
Heartland Family Service’s “rapid rehousing team” was at the complex helping displaced residents.
“HFS staff will work throughout the week to get all impacted individuals and families stabilized in temporary housing and assist those in need with permanent arrangements,” a Monday release from the organization states.
According to the release from the mayor’s office, the fire department had become involved after a hoarding complaint. That report led fire inspectors to find further violations, including electrical hazards caused by damaged and vandalized furnaces, faulty fire doors and malfunctioning emergency exit lighting, as well as a lack of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and carbon monoxide detectors.
More recent violations found included residents living in units with no heat and some dealing with standing water containing raw sewage. There were also incidents of vandalism happening in some of the vacant units.
While Heartland Family Service is leading the efforts to assist displaced residents, the Apartment Association of Nebraska is also offering support, helping to identify 100 immediate housing options within similar rent ranges.
At a Monday afternoon news conference, Mayor Stothert said the apartment complex is being shut down in the name of safety.
“The residents deserve safe housing and we must act now to prevent travesty,” Stothert said.
The property did pass an inspection in October 2021; however, violations were found and allegedly corrected later.
But city officials said the property has since worsened.
The city’s most immediate worry about the facility is the potential devastation by fire. In the last month, there were two fires at the property: one accidental and the other caused by arson at an unoccupied unit. Last week, investigators arrested a man for arson after a fire on Thursday was ignited in one of the units. The burned up couch, a mattress, and who knows what else that caught fire in the unit were collecting snow by the apartment entrance on Monday.
That, combined with the reported housing and fire code violations, prompted city officials to act.
“If it’s unsafe, it’s unsafe,” resident Jessica Swinnerton said. “I’d rather it be shut down fast. Horrible time of the year; horrible time in my life — I just had a baby.”
The mother of three told 6 News she was paying $1,300 monthly for rent at the now-condemned apartment complex the city is calling a hazard.
“You’d expect better when you pay that much for a two-bedroom apartment,” she said.
Recent inspections showed each of the property’s 17 buildings had fire and safety violations. Currently, there are 37 housing code complaints from residents, including lack of heat, collapsed ceilings, water damage, and mold.
The owners of the property, based in Colorado, allegedly told city officials that they had no plans to further improve the apartment complex, which has since gone into foreclosure. The city was notified of the foreclosure status on Thursday, according to the release from the mayor’s office.
“They knocked on the door and told me I had to be out by today at 5 p.m., then we have by the end of the week to get all our crap out,” resident Brian Meyer told 6 News.
Omaha Police told 6 News that they would have officers patrolling the property overnight.
A notice from the City of Omaha attached to a door at the apartment complex reads “this occupied property has been declared unsafe, unfit for human occupancy, or unlawful, because of violations so designated under IFC 110.3.3, IFC 110.4.1, IFC 110.2, NFPA 101 and serious unsanitary conditions.”
Officials said their first priority is finding immediate housing for those affected.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Swinnerton said. ”My poor kids — it’s so close to Christmas. I put up my Christmas tree a week ago. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
It’s been a lot to digest for many of the renters in the complex.
“It’s hard enough already not having the funds — you want to buy them what they deserve and then you have this,” Pamela St. John said.
Others are thankful they can fall back on the kindness of friends and family.
“Right now, still trying to figure it out,” Meyer said. “I know I can stay with a friend tonight; the rest of it is up to — I guess we’ll figure it out.”
The apartment complex’s occupancy was at 44% prior to the relocation effort, with 165 units occupied — although officials weren’t yet certain of the exact number of people living there. The mayor’s office said the complex has 408 units in total.
“My main concern now is there are like four elderly people in my building, three more down in that building — I’m sure they don’t have anybody to help them leave,” resident Alex Marion said. “I’ve got my own stuff to move out, but I’m going to help them move out the best I can.”
Marion said he’s lived in the complex for four years and that the conditions just keep getting worse. He shared his security camera video with 6 News showing two units on fire across from his apartment.
“They flicked a cigarette — they don’t have anyone to clean it up,” he said. “The apartment complex just isn’t the best.”
Seven weeks later, the burned debris was still there.
Fire Chief Dan Olsen said crews were going door-to-door throughout the day to find all residents and get them resources.
Mayor Stothert said the affected residents will have several nonprofits working with them to find them housing with similar rent and location. Community partners have also provided $250,000 so far to the effort.
“There is so much good and generosity in our city, as a community, we will take care of the residents,” the mayor said in the release.
Meyer said he felt fortunate that he had some support to fall back on.
“Luckily, I have great family and friends. We’ll figure it out,” he said. “But it’s — I can tell you that this is the calmest I’ve been all day. It will probably hit tonight, you know, right before Christmas.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Heartland Family Service was coordinating hotel rooms and other sorts of assistance housing on Monday. Those wishing to provide support to the organization with a donation may do so online. The Omaha Community Foundation has also set up a fund to help the displaced residents; you can contribute to the Legacy Crossing Relief Fund via omahacommunityfoundation.org
The situation Monday brought to mind the displacement of Yale Park residents in September 2018, but officials agreed the more recent case was worse.
“That displacement involved 100 units. We weren’t dealing with cold weather at the time, and I think that just the scope of this relocation is larger and is potentially more complicated,” said Joanie Poore with the Omaha Housing Authority.
The mayor ultimately agreed, saying “in many respects, it’s probably worse”; but did note that there were a couple of aspects working in the city’s favor by comparison: There are fewer language barriers at Legacy Crossing, and schools are either out for the holiday break or about to be.
“The one thing that is a bit different is that with Yale Park: There were a lot of refugees there,” Stothert said. “There was issues with language, of course, that we had. It was during the school year, so we had to work on where and how we were going to be able to provide transportation to get kids to school. And you know up in this area, there’s not a lot of refugees that we’re aware of; let’s put it that way.”
To date, the city has more than 97,000 rental units in its registry, but Monday’s actions will prompt a review of Omaha’s rental inspection and registration ordinance, the mayor’s office said.
“The requirement for two consecutive years of inspections will allow inspectors to return to Legacy Crossing to document the conditions,” city Planning Director Dave Fanslau said in the release from the mayor’s office. “Without that ability, we may not have been aware of the condition of the apartments or able to help residents relocate to safe housing.”
Watch Monday’s full news conference
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