Last summer, a handful of seniors kicked up a stir with allegations of “uninhabitable” living conditions at North Las Vegas’ Buena Vista Springs senior apartment complex.
State health and safety regulators arrived at the oft-maligned complex within weeks of residents speaking out against long-running roach infestations, mold damage and broken air conditioners at several of the state-subsidized apartment units at 2510 Morton Ave.
Camera crews followed local politicians on a resident-led tour of Buena Vista’s algae-grown pool and watched as seniors lodged complaints against the complex’s absentee owner. Eyebrows were raised and promises were made.
Six months later, residents remain far from reassured. Seniors say maintenance issues at the complex — including broken emergency pull cords, mildewed carpet and spotty complex security measures — continue to pose a major health and safety risk.
They hope to organize a rent strike this month.
“We all know that we still have the same health and safety issues, and that’s what makes this place uninhabitable as far as I’m concerned,” said 76-year-old resident Alma Evans. “The answer we always get from management is that they don’t have the money to fix anything. So the only way we’re going to get anything done is to make sure we’re not giving the man his money.”
Pressure from state and Clark County code compliance officials has forced management to fix keg-sized holes created by mold and water damage in Evans’ bathroom. They have also emptied the pool and laid new carpet on the first of the complex’s three floors.
Beyond that, not much has changed, according to longtime resident Walter Goodwin.
Goodwin cited promised security measures, such as better perimeter fences and a more secure front door, that haven’t materialized in the months since state and local officials last visited the property.
He said homeless people can still be found sleeping under the property’s overgrown landscaping, and criminals can still gain easy access to the complex.
Goodwin suspects there aren’t many kids who would want their parents living under those conditions.
“Does this look safe to you?” he asked, opening the building’s password-protected sliding glass door with one finger. “Nothing management has done and nothing politicians have promised to do is much of a comfort to me.”
Roughly a quarter of the complex’s 58 tenants met last month to try to come up with new ways to get their landlord’s attention.
Each of the 15 residents in attendance supported a rent strike proposed by Evans and backed by North Valley Leadership Team president Lydia Garrett.
Garrett, who fought hard to win recent condemnation of Buena Vista’s adjacent all-ages complex, said she’s fed up with Creative Choice Homes LLC, the building’s owner.
The community activist spent years helping residents take unanswered complaints to a rotating selection of property managers and said she’s seen the complex’s ownership group dodge thousands of dollars in unpaid building and health code violations.
Her patience with the situation has long since run out.
“I’m a licensed property manager, and I’ve told you before that we go to court over situations like this,” she told seniors at the Jan. 24 meeting. “I know judges get very upset with slumlords. They will pull the plug on this owner.
“If you put your money where your mouth is, then they have to take you seriously.”
The senior complex’s Florida-based ownership group has been on the city of North Las Vegas’ radar for years.
City Community Development director Kathi Thomas Gibson said Buena Vista’s owners — the same group that Garrett helped force out of a long-maligned, recently razed Section 8-subsidized housing complex across the street — owe the city an estimated $46,000 in unpaid utility fees. She and other city officials are still looking to recoup those payments.
Meanwhile, Gibson has become a vocal advocate for making the building’s ownership team a little lighter in the wallet, reassuring residents at last month’s meeting that management can’t legally retaliate against tenants who participate in a proposed rent strike.
“Let me be real clear: You’re still paying your rent, just into an escrow account at the Clark County court,” she said. “A piece of paper cannot evict you, so don’t freak out if (management) starts sending out notices.
“Your owner counts on you guys fighting each other. He has 157 other buildings, and this is not his first time doing this.”
The state could push the IRS to revoke the complex owner’s right to house federally subsidized tenants on the property, action that Housing and Urban Development officials took against another of the ownership group’s properties in 2007.
Reached for comment in August, Nevada Housing Division program chief Mike Dang couldn’t say what might prompt state officials to make such a move, though he expressed optimism that a new management team could help turn the property around.
Housing Division Administrator Bruce Johnson admits living conditions at many of the complex’s units remain a hazard, by his and just about everyone else’s definition.
If there is another senior complex as troubled as Buena Vista in the Las Vegas Valley, he hasn’t heard of it.
That’s why the property remains one of his team’s top priorities, a title he hopes it won’t hold for much longer.
“We’ve committed to going to Buena Vista on a biweekly basis, just based on the number of issues there,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how many complaints it takes for the IRS to revoke the owner’s tax subsidy, but I know we’ve filed more than a few. We’re trying to hold management accountable, but from our standpoint, our hands are tied.”
Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.