Roswell seniors upset by forced move from apartments at risk of being condemned

Sheila Permell Richards, 75, is packing up her belongings preparing to move from the Roswell apartment where she’s lived for 20 years.

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Sheila Permell Richards, 75, is packing up her belongings preparing to move from the Roswell apartment where she’s lived for 20 years.

Sheila Permell Richards, 75, is packing her belongings, preparing to move from the Roswell apartment where she’s lived for 20 years.

She doesn’t know where she will move, only that she has to go.

Richards lives at Pelfrey Pines public housing development in a building that will soon be condemned by the city of Roswell.

“I’m very depressed,” Richards said. “Nobody cares about us.”

Richards is one of 33 senior and disabled residents who must move out by August 23. They were told they’d have to leave in March.

The residents pay reduced rent — less than one-third of the market rate price — through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 housing program.

The Roswell Housing Authority, which owns the building, is relocating the residents. Some could move to Pelfrey apartment units located across the street, others might go to a new senior development called Grayson Ridge in Lawrenceville.

Only a small number of apartments are available at those locations. Residents and management at Pelfrey Pines are working to find apartment communities that will accept Section 8 vouchers. The vouchers show that at least $1,300 of the rent would be paid by HUD and the resident would pay the balance.

Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson has criticized the housing authority for the poor conditions of the Pelfrey Pines building at 199 Grove Way, saying issues have gone unaddressed for years. Last spring, Roswell ordered the authority to repair the building within 180 days or it would be ordered to be demolished by the city.

While the building is not yet condemned, repairs have not taken place and it will be demolished, according to RHA. The housing project opened in 1984.

During Monday’s City Council meeting Wilson said residents of the building are in “immediate peril.”

Wilson added, “The only thing that we had the purview to do was to protect the residents ... and say that building is unsafe and if it doesn’t get fixed, many, many people could get hurt or die.”

A 2021 report on the three-story brick apartment building said the foundation is unstable with the potential for sinkholes from soil erosion. That could cause the building to collapse, according to a March 2022 letter from HUD to the housing authority.

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Scaffolding holds up parts of the structure at Pelfrey Pines apartments in Roswell. The building which houses elderly and disabled residents has been condemned by the city of Roswell.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Scaffolding holds up parts of the structure at Pelfrey Pines apartments in Roswell. The building which houses elderly and disabled residents has been condemned by the city of Roswell.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Combined ShapeCaption
Scaffolding holds up parts of the structure at Pelfrey Pines apartments in Roswell. The building which houses elderly and disabled residents has been condemned by the city of Roswell.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Documents provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by residents indicate critical repairs have been left undone since 2017.

Engineers recommended stairways be replaced due to severe corrosion, said a letter from Roswell Director of Community Development Jason Gaines to the RHA last March.

“To date this recommendation has not been followed…,” the letter reads. “It was identified … as a life safety item.”

The housing authority owns 95 apartments at Pelfrey Pines, 40 at 199 Grove Way and 55 across the street.

Karen Parrish, board chair of the RHA, said Pelfrey Pines is in need of redevelopment that could cost up to $40 million. In 2020 and 2021 the housing authority was turned down for funding through the state.

The RHA plans to submit another application in October. After demolishing the existing structure, and if funding becomes available, the authority plans to construct a new building with an increased number of units and renovate the apartments across the street.

Residents are upset and confused

The RHA has found new apartments for half of the 33 residents in need, Parrish told the AJC.

But similar to Richards, several residents speaking to the AJC at their homes Tuesday said they are upset about the possibility of leaving Roswell and moving to an apartment community that is unsafe or far from their doctors’ offices and support systems.

They were also critical of maintenance at Pelfrey Pines saying flooding and a ceiling collapse had taken place in their apartments in recent years.

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Sophia Ilyaeva, 71, a native of Russia, said she, too, worries about where she is going to live. Pelfrey Pines, the apartment building that she lives in has been condemned by the city of Roswell.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Sophia Ilyaeva, 71, a native of Russia, said she, too, worries about where she is going to live. Pelfrey Pines, the apartment building that she lives in has been condemned by the city of Roswell.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Combined ShapeCaption
Sophia Ilyaeva, 71, a native of Russia, said she, too, worries about where she is going to live. Pelfrey Pines, the apartment building that she lives in has been condemned by the city of Roswell.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Residents said they feel they’re unfairly looked down on because they live in public housing.

Debbie Pruitt, 62, said that due to a medical disability, she has been living in the building for 32 years. She grew up in Roswell on nearby Zion Circle, she said.

Pruitt said she has asked local apartment communities that charge market rate rent about them accepting her Section 8 voucher. Pruitt said she’s been told that her voucher would be accepted but the staff at the apartment communities also said she must show that her income is three times the amount of the market rate rent.

“I went to three apartment complexes,” Pruitt said. “If I make that much money, I wouldn’t need a voucher.”

Apartment communities with market rate rent are not required to have units set aside for tenants with Section 8 vouchers, Beth Brown, the manager of Pelfrey Pines said.

Richards said she has found that apartment communities that she’s viewed online set aside less desirable units for people with Section 8 vouchers.

“We’re considered third-class citizens because we have vouchers,” Richards said. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t have a pet. I’m not a hooker and I’m not a drug dealer. So, I would be a good tenant anywhere I went if they would take me with a voucher but they won’t do it.”

Sophia Ilyaeva, 71, a native of Russia, said she, too, worries about where she is going to live.

She moved into Pelfrey Pines in 2015 and uses oxygen due to asthma. Ilyaeva said she stays in the immediate area when she ventures out to buy personal items.

“I’m scared,” Ilyaeva said. “I’m just depressed. Who’s going to help me? Some houses don’t take vouchers. I can’t pay regular rent.”

Michael Dowda, 74, moved to 199 Grove Way in December 2020 after living in an extended stay hotel in Roswell.

“I couldn’t wait to get out of that hotel,” he said. “It was just sad, crime left and right. Basically, I would’ve maybe given (it a) second thought to moving here if I knew it was a preexisting situation and I would have to pack up and move in a year and a half. Something’s not right.”

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The Roswell Housing Authority has been criticized by Mayor Kurt Wilson about how poor conditions of the building at 199 Grove Way have gone unaddressed.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

The Roswell Housing Authority has been criticized by Mayor Kurt Wilson about how poor conditions of the building at 199 Grove Way have gone unaddressed.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Combined ShapeCaption
The Roswell Housing Authority has been criticized by Mayor Kurt Wilson about how poor conditions of the building at 199 Grove Way have gone unaddressed.

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison