OGDEN — A year ago, just after the holidays, the residents of the Historic Peery Apartments were sent packing.
Today, although the building has sat empty since last March, the old girl is beginning to show signs of life. And the residents whose lives were uprooted have long since moved on.
On Jan. 8, 2015, the Ogden Housing Authority informed the low-income residents of the historic apartment building that their federal housing assistance subsidies would be terminated at the end of that month. Meaning, they’d either have to find other qualifying subsidized housing or pay the full price of rent going forward.
“They couldn’t afford to pay the full rent,” said Linda Ferrin, who managed the Peery Apartments for six years under the previous owner. “The majority of my tenants didn’t even have vehicles. We had single-parent moms — one with a newborn.”
Eventually, after the federal subsidy contract with Peery Apartments was terminated, the building owner at the time, Steve Mack of Studio City, Calif., lost the property.
“The owner was foreclosed on,” Ferrin said. “He also lost his home in L.A.”
The apartment building spent most of 2015 sitting empty, with Ferrin acting as a part-time “babysitter” of the unoccupied building. Then, this past summer, Thaine Fischer, who owns a number of properties in the Ogden area, acquired it.
“We purchased it from the bank, on the courthouse steps,” he said.
Fischer said the plan is to do extensive work to the 106-year-old building, possibly restoring it to its original condition. The Peery Apartments were designed by architect Leslie Simmons Hodgson, who also dreamed up such Ogden landmarks as Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden High School, the Ogden Municipal Building, the Ben Lomond Hotel and the U.S. Forest Service building.
“We’d love to bring it back to its grandeur, but we also have to think about the economics,” Fischer said.
While the current market has him leaning toward a complete restoration, Fischer admits the cost of renovating historic buildings is “very costly.” So while Plan A involves restoring it completely and charging market-value rents, Plan B is to simply bring the building back to code and court low-income renters.
“If we were to bring it to its full potential, it would no longer be subsidized housing,” Fischer said. “This could continue with existing subsidized housing, but I feel it’s not the best use for the building.”
Fischer is already working with Ogden City to see if there might be any incentives available for the restoration.
No stranger to restoring historic buildings, Fischer says the Peery will be his sixth in Ogden. Most recently, he oversaw the restoration of the old Star Noodle Parlor — including the buildings to the immediate east and west — on Historic 25th Street.
Currently, Fischer is in the process of getting bids back from contractors for work on the Peery, although he feels his company already has a good understanding — on paper, anyway — of what the renovation will entail. He’s also had some initial exploratory remodeling begun on one of the apartment units.
It won’t be cheap, but Fischer says he enjoys restoring old buildings.
“I think there are a lot of beautiful, historic buildings in the downtown core, and I think it sets Ogden apart from a lot of other communities,” he said.
Tim Price, executive director of the Ogden Housing Authority, said the building’s new owner has reached out to his office about the possibility of subsidy contracts to help with renovation or maintenance. However, those subsidies are no longer available, according to Price.
Under Mack, the Peery was what is referred to as a “mod rehab” — part of a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program that offered money to building owners to fix up their properties and receive assistance for low-income renters. The program was called the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation Program. But Price said mod rehab is an old program, and HUD no longer offers new contracts — although there are about seven apartment buildings in Ogden that will continue to be a part of the mod rehab program.
Travis James, special programs manager at Ogden Housing Authority, said Mack lost his mod rehab contract because the Peery wasn’t being kept up to housing quality standards. The authority’s biggest concern was the potential for lead-based paint in the building, “as well as some deteriorating areas of the exterior of the building,” he said.
Price said it was the first mod rehab contract OHA has had to terminate in the decades-old HUD program. He said they worked with the previous owner for more than a year on mediation of the issues, and that “things were promised and promised.”
“We certainly made every attempt to remedy the problem,” James said.
“Absolutely,” added Price. “We knew the bigger effect it had (on the tenants).”
The Standard-Examiner was unable to reach Steve Mack for comment. However, Mack has contended that he was treated unfairly by both the Ogden Housing Authority and Kier Management Corp., which used to oversee the Peery.
Ferrin recalled what a difficult time it was for those having to move.
“It was scary. It was really scary,” she said. “A lot of them were stressed out really hard. They cried. And I know how that feels — I raised four kids by myself.”
Ferrin said all of the residents of the 14 apartments in the Peery have found other housing and seem to be doing well; OHA offered vouchers for subsidized housing elsewhere.
Most left in February. One single mother with three daughters was allowed to stay there until April, rent-free, according to Ferrin.
“Steve Mack told me to let her stay there until she found something else,” Ferrin said. “The last two months we didn’t charge her any rent.”
One of the former residents of Peery Apartments, 64-year-old Steve Hammer, lived in a one-bedroom apartment there for more than two years. He was not happy to have to move, and didn’t like the way the situation was handled.
“I was very upset,” Hammer said. “Who can tear up a contract like that? My contract was written in May and was supposed to go through the next May. And then in December they just tore it up.”
Hammer has since relocated a few blocks away to Three Link Towers. He can see the Peery Apartments from his balcony.
“I’m happy,” he said. “It’s probably a blessing I got kicked out, because this place is wonderful.”
Hammer admitted he’s a little nervous right now because Three Link Towers was recently sold. However, he said the initial meeting between the new owners and tenants went well.
“I just hope it’s not another nightmare,” he said. “I’m praying I don’t have to move again. I’m hoping I’ve landed in a sweet spot and can live happily ever after. … But then, I said that about Peery Apartments, too.”
Despite all the heartburn over the Peery Apartments a year ago, Hammer says he’s pretty much forgotten it.
“That’s all in the past,” he said. “I’ve moved on, and I’m happy.”