Ralston wrongful death suit settles; nearly all residents out of building as long saga nears an end

Ralston Towers

Ralston Towers in downtown Columbus is almost empty. The relocation of 150 residents to better housing is nearly done.

Before the week is over all of the residents who have been living inside this nine-story, century-old high-rise on 12th Street will be gone.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Columbus Housing Authority have been relocating residents from the Ralston for about six months. More than 150 residents were relocated during this process, supervised by HUD and assisted by the Housing Authority of Columbus.

They got vouchers to move out of the run-down, dilapidated, bug-infested building after months of investigations by HUD and pressure from Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson and congressmen who represent Columbus.

The residents who remain inside are the hardest ones to place.

“What I have been told is that there are people they see coming and going, but when they go knock on an apartment door nobody answers. I got to find out how they will vacate everybody that could possibly still be living there,” Lisa Walters, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Columbus, said.

It’s going to happen quickly. Gas, water and power — bills that have been paid by HUD and not the New Jersey-based owners — are being cut off as we speak.

There has also been another major development. Wilmington Trust, which holds the financing on the building, put it in receivership this month.

This means PF Holdings, the New Jersey owners, no longer controls the property. 

This all has happened 13 months after the family of a former Ralston resident Charles Hart won a $125 million wrongful-death verdict against the building’s owners. Hart died in 2016 in a nearly 100-degree room with a malfunctioning air conditioner.

“I am happy to hear that. That is the bond holders are taking over, It will eventually be foreclosed upon — being the building. And hopefully, a better use can be put to it than what has been the history,” Charlie Gower, who represented Hart’s family in the wrongful-death lawsuit.

The wrongful-death case has now been settled.

Since that jury awarded the $125 million more than a year ago, the case has been under appeal by the New Jersey-based owners, PF Holdings.

Court Records indicate the case has been dismissed. Gower tells News 3 the case has settled, but he can’t discuss the details because of a confidentiality clause.

That case started the clock that has been ticking on the Ralston since July 2019. 

Henderson, Congressmen Drew Ferguson and Sanford Bishop reached across party lines to pressure HUD to do something about the run-down, dilapidated, bug-infested building.

HUD stripped the federal fundinging from the owners late last year. Today, gas, power and water are all being cut off as the final residents are moved out of the building. They have been relocated by HUD using federal funds.

“The best thing is I got to a lot of people that are down there. They now have a much better place to live. They are scattered out, which is a bad thing because they had a lot of camaraderie there. But they are in a better place to live,” Gower said.

Gower says the credit for closing the Ralston goes to the jury. They are the ones who sent the message.

“They deserve all the credit. They had the guts to stand up and do the right thing. And I appreciate that,” Gower said.

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