Two U.S. congressmen demand immediate changes to the Ralston Towers in a bipartisan effort to fix the ailing building and help the tenants.
After touring the home for vulnerable members of the community, the two congressmen, a Democrat and a Republican, gave a joint press conference outside the building. Henderson stood beside them as they condemned the living conditions inside the downtown apartments.
The tour of Ralston, owned by PF Holdings in New Jersey, comes after years of complaints by residents and a recent wrongful death lawsuit’s completion in Muscogee County that awarded the family of Charles Hart $125 million after he died in the Ralston.
Hart’s death showed that Ralston owners were found to have contributed to the death of Charles Hart two years ago in a room in which the air conditioning did not work.
The judgment, which came on July 1, was followed by a Housing and Urband Development inspection on July 8 that found conditions in the Ralston “is in default of its statuory, contractual, and/or regulatory duties to maintain the Project in decent, safe, and sanitary condition.”
The inspection scored the Ralston at 42, well below the minimum passing grade of 60. The new inspection brought the facility down from its previous score of 65. HUD gave the Ralston’s owner 60 days to take corrective actions upon receipt of the notice.
Bishop, Ferguson, and Henderson were given notice of this development as well, and the tour was planned soon after.
Walking outside after the tour, the three officials spoke to the public about the state of the HUD building.
“I witnessed Roach infested hallways. I stepped over roaches and droppings from vermin. I would expect the residents would be looking foward to some drastic improvement,” said Bishop.
Ferguson echoed the sentiment, saying he would work with Bishop to fix the problems plaguing the Ralston.
“I will be happy to work with Congressman Bishop,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think waiting 60 days for HUD to respond…I am willing to go out and fight for these residents to get the voucher to move out tomorrow. Having them stay here for 60 days is unacceptable.”
Henderson gave a more grounded point, focused on the goal they all have in caring for the Ralston’s residents.
“Our overriding objective is to make sure the residents of the Ralston have safe, clean housing. That’s it, that’s all,” said Henderson. “…it appears from the short tour that there’s a real disconnect, I think the local management that’s in place has a desire, to really make sure they have a quality place to live. And I just don’t think they’re getting the resources.”
With the HUD inspection in hand, the congressmen are demanding that the Ralston’s owners clean up the building or lose the federal vouchers that the residents rely on.
Additionally, Ferguson is currently working on legislation to improve federal housing inspections. The bill is called H.R. 4023, the HUD Inspection Process Enforcement Reform Act of 2019. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the companion legislation, known as S.R. 1184.
“The lack of proper oversight in the federal housing at Ralston Towers in Columbus and Twin Pines in LaGrange has enabled deterioration of the properties, leaving residents living in squalor. The health and safety of Georgia’s Third District residents should never be threatened. By requiring HUD to publish housing reports that detail inspection scores of facilities, we can better enforce safety and sanitation standards and put an end to the horrific conditions I saw on the visits,” said Congressman Drew Ferguson.
The new legislation would “provide improvements to the federal housing inspection process and hold Section 8 housing landlords accountable for abusing taxpayer dollars,” as well as give HUD the ability to remove employees for misconduct or poor performance.
See the full HUD July 8 report below: