Peery's peril: Low-income tenants told to relocate

Sunday , January 18, 2015 - 11:45 AM

OGDEN — Low-income tenants who reside in the downtown Peery Apartments have been told the federal subsidy for 14 units is terminated as of Jan. 31.

In a Jan. 8 meeting with the Ogden Housing Authority, these renters were given 60-day vouchers and told to find new housing in line with their individual income limits. One woman, in her 80s, has lived in her unit for 28 years, while others just began renting at Peery this summer and one even signed her lease in mid-November.

“I moved in Nov. 18 and exactly one month later got the notice that they’re going to terminate the housing assistance contract,” said Donna Smiley, a recent transplant from Arizona.

The 51-year-old Smiley has been working to get back on her feet financially and made plans to take a Certified Nurses Aide course at the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College in order to pursue work in home health care. Right now her car won’t run so she said she’s been “busing it” to her part-time job at Deseret Industries. Coming up with the deposit for another place seems near impossible, but the Housing Authority told her that funds were available for that purpose in form of a loan, Smiley said.

“There’s times when it’s very overwhelming, to say the least,” Smiley said of her situation. “My biggest disgust about all this is why did they even let me enter into (the lease) if they were in the process or even thinking about taking Peery off their list?”

Home at last

For 63-year-old Steve Hammer, the one-bedroom unit he’s rented at Peery for the last two-plus years suited him perfectly.

The Ogden native said he enlisted in the Army at age 17 and served in Germany from 1969-1971. After returning, he purchased a truck and camper and toured the country’s national parks, working construction at times to finance his nomadic lifestyle.

“It was a dream, and I was able to do it for a while,” Hammer said. But 34 years later, he returned to his Ogden roots to settle down.

After a stint in the Park Avenue Apartments next to Peery, Hammer said he was grateful to land in the more serene Peery units where the owner, Steve Mack, and manager Linda Ferrin have worked to foster a sense of community.

“I chose this location because it’s close to everything,” Hammer said of the Farmers Market, amphitheater activities and other festivities that frequently light up nearby Historic 25th Street.

“I felt very lucky to land here,” Hammer said, above all valuing the view of the mountains from his apartment’s east-facing windows.

But now, Hammer has to find new digs and the thought of leaving his “home” behind quickly caused him to choke up.

“It breaks my heart,” Hammer said. “I was hoping this would be my last move.”

The owner’s story

Steve Mack lives in Studio City, Calif. and purchased the stately old building at 2461 Adams Ave. in 2005. Now 104 years old, the structure has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since December 1987.

Peery Apartments were the handiwork of Architect Leslie Simmons Hodgson, who also designed Ogden High School, Peery’s Egyptian Theater, the Ben Lomond Hotel, Ogden’s Municipal Building and the U.S. Forest Service Building.

“The Realtor picked me up at the airport and drove me to Ogden, and as we came over the viaduct I saw this beautiful old town and thought ‘how long have they been hiding this?’” Mack said of his initial excitement in 2005 of Ogden’s unique charm.

After purchasing Peery, Mack hired Kier Management Corp. to oversee and maintain the units. But by 2009, he said he had to terminate that contract and take over management himself even though he continued to live in California.

Using an online forum, thepeeryapartments.blogspot.com, Mack openly vented his frustration over what he called Kier’s mismanagement and neglect of the property during that four-year period. He also believes that the Ogden Housing Authority often “looked the other way” as it continued to place tenants in what he believes were unsafe conditions.

Mack claimed that he had to make extensive repairs and upgrades when he took over, and he scratches his head over some of the documentation Kier previously submitted to him for payment. Some invoices were for power-washing of the roof where pigeon droppings built up and damaged the building’s soffits and eaves.

However, Mack said that none of the tenants could recall Kier ever doing any power-washing — and one invoice was dated July 15, 2008, the same day a crime-scene investigation was in progress after a woman was found shot to death behind the building the night before. Mack said that dealing drugs and turning tricks had become the norm in and around the apartments.

A year ago, Mack was asked to repair peeling lead-based paint on the building’s roof. In a recent letter to the Standard-Examiner, Mack said that the Ogden Housing Authority is terminating his HUD housing assistance contract “because I was not able to afford to repair some cosmetic damage on the exterior of the building in the time they allotted me.”

During that time, Mack said that OHA stopped paying the rents on several units, hampering his ability to make any progress. A lead-based paint risk assessment inspection on the building’s exterior showed inconsistent findings, Mack added.

“The real reason that the Ogden Housing Authority terminated my contract with HUD was out of anger and retaliation for posting evidence online showing a number of significant departures from HUD program rules by the Ogden Housing Authority in their dealings with their biggest partner and slumlord, Kier Property Management, who had just filed a lawsuit against me for the same reason,” Mack said in his letter.

OHA and Kier respond

When asked about the HUD contract with Peery, Tim Price, executive director of the Ogden Housing Authority, responded by email that it was being terminated “for good reasons as it relates to housing quality standards,” but did not go into further detail.

“The Housing Authority works closely with owners to correct deficiencies to include the necessary time to complete any deficiencies,” Price added, which would include extending that time in extenuating circumstances. “If an owner does not complete the deficiencies or show good intentions in doing such in the time allowed, the Housing Authority will terminate the assistance.”

Price said that the tenants have received protection vouchers for alternative housing on the private market, similar to Section 8 vouchers which have a waiting list and often take people years to obtain.

Housing Authority staff will do their best to work with Peery’s tenants to help them use those vouchers, Price added.

According to kiermanagement.com, the company has managed properties for 27 years in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington. It employs 86 people and operates 2,120 units and 300,000 square feet of commercial property.

Annette Peterson, chief operating officer for Kier Management, said that Kier formerly owned the Peery Apartments in the early 1980s and the building had been sold twice since then.

Peterson called Mack’s claim that Kier ran the building into the ground “bogus,” adding that Kier terminated its agreement with Mack “because he would not pay us.”

“We had made repairs to the best of our ability, trying to keep the building running,” Peterson said. “And he owed us not only for those repairs, but also our management fee.”

Kier did not sue Mack for those outstanding payments, she said, but he then began posting “nasty stuff that was untrue” on the Internet.

“He has badgered us,” Peterson said, noting that most recently he published the Social Security numbers of two Kier Management owners online — Bonnie Kier-Herrick and Kimi Kier-Noar, for which Kier sought and obtained an injunction against Mack last July.

Peterson said that low-income tenants are more than just numbers to Kier.

“It started with Kim and Bonnie’s father, James E. Kier. He believed in housing the less fortunate,” Peterson said.

While government subsidies may seem like a cash cow to some, Peterson said that the operating costs usually run much higher than those for a conventional property.

“By the time you hire site managers, compliance people, and comply with all the myriad of inspections, they are very expensive to run if you do them the right way and do them well,” Peterson said.

Mack tried to rebuild

After parting ways with Kier in 2009, Mack immediately hired Linda Ferrin to manage the property. Ferrin’s mother has lived in one of the units for 28 years.

“I didn’t know how we’d ever bring it up to HUD standards. The damages were so severe,” Mack said of the condition most units were in after four years under Kier. He added that Kier had installed cheap polybutylene pipes in the building in the 1980s which led to a number of problems down the road.

Mack credits Ferrin with basically saving his life.

“Linda pulled me out of a very sad situation,” Mack said. “She’s had so much integrity . . . she has not misspent one penny.”

Before taking on the management of Peery, Ferrin said she worked at Autoliv for 18 years and raised four children as a single mother.

Now she worries about having to relocate her mother, who loves her Peery home.

“We had to take her to the hospital because her heart was skipping,” Ferrin said, after the notice came to relocate. “They sent her home with a heart monitor and said that stress might have caused the problem.”

Since 2009, the units have received upgrades and passed inspections, Ferrin said, and while some lead-based paint exists on the exterior, “tenants will not climb on the roof and scrape paint into their mouths.”

Gladys Henderson, a 59-year-old diabetic and great-grandmother, said she moved into her basement Peery apartment last June.

“This is my dream home,” Henderson said. “This shouldn’t happen to nobody.”

But some residents view their forced relocation as retribution for Mack’s online postings.

“They’ve already thrown Steve under the bus,” said Shelley Williams, who moved into Peery on May 31. “They put us in the bus for extra weight.”

Mack is uncertain at this point whether he can stay in the fight.

“(Without subsidies) we won’t be able to rent the units for what it takes to run the building,” Mack said, adding that he would hate to see Peery revert back to what it had become in 2009, but he said his finances have been decimated and his own house is currently in foreclosure.

“I’m going to let it go back to the bank after Jan. 31, so it becomes a monument to the city of the corruption it caused,” Mack said.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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