In a powerful bi-partisan effort, two Georgia congressmen have asked the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to start a process to allow residents of a Columbus low-income apartment to move immediately.
Republican Drew Ferguson and Democrat Sanford Bishop set the letter to Secretary Ben Carson late Wednesday. It comes as HUD has put the owners of Ralston Towers in downtown Columbus on a clock, giving them 60 days to improve the conditions inside the 10-story building that houses about 200 residents.
“As HUD moves forward in addressing the pressing issues at Ralston Towers, we request that your office grant each tenant a voucher or some other form of assistance immediately to allow them to relocate to an adequate living space until appropriate action is taken to make their homes at Ralston towers safe and sanitary,” the letter read.
This came two days after Ferguson and Bishop toured the facility at the request of Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson. The three men went through the Ralston Towers Monday afternoon. In a news conference after the hour-and-15-minute tour, the three politicians decried the conditions inside the Ralston.
All of the Ralston residents, some of whom would be homeless if not for the federal assistance, rely on project-based Section 8 vouchers to pay all or part of their rents. Those HUD vouchers are controlled by the Ralston owners and can not transfer.
That is what the congressmen are seeking to change. They want the residents’ vouchers to be flexible, allowing the residents to use them for other approved housing outside of the Ralston.
The pressure on New Jersey-based owners PF Holdings and their subsidiaries have been increasing since the first of the year. Three times, the Columbus Water Works has put the owners on notice it would cut off water to the 269 units for failure to pay the water bill. Each time, PF Holdings has come into compliance after the public notice.
Last month, a Muscogee County State Court jury awarded the family of a Ralston resident $125 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. Charles Hart, who suffered from COPD, was found dead inside his third-floor room in July 2017. The room was nearly 100 degrees. The jury said the owner’s neglect contributed to Hart’s death.
The Ralston scored a 42 on a 100-point scale in a July 8 HUD inspection that came days after the record State Court verdict. In that inspection, HUD officials gave Ralston owners until the end of September to fix the issues plaguing the century-old building that was once the city’s most elegant hotel.
Those issues range from lead-based paint to exposed wiring and lack of cleanliness. The HUD inspection concluded it was not safe or sanitary.
The congressmen and mayor reached that same conclusion after their tour.
Henderson said the day after the tour that his office is working with Home for Good, a local United Way agency that helps move homeless people into housing, to relocate the Ralston residents should that become necessary.
Read the full letter from Congressmen Ferguson and Bishop below: