Friday, December 14, 2007

Tully: Phoenix On The Auction Block

After collecting millions of your taxpayer dollars for operating a hell hole, the owners of RCM Phoenix Partners of Camden, New Jersey are now putting the troubled Section 8 apartment complex on the auction block as the heat is turned up on them. Star political columnist Matt Tully vents his frustration with the federal Housing and Urban Development agency's handling of the Phoenix:

For years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has slept through opportunities to improve the Phoenix Apartments, allowing the Northeastside complex to reign as the city's saddest example of urban neglect.

Now, the feds have yet another opportunity to act. It won't last long, though. And if officials continue to slumber, years will go by and we'll see no significant changes at the troubled complex.

What would that mean? Many years of more children growing up amid poverty so deep, and violence so routine, that they won't have a fair shot at a safe and healthy life.

HUD officials have been silent even as the Phoenix makes the front page for all the wrong reasons. The federal agency sends more than $2 million a year in taxpayer-subsidized rent payments to owners of the Phoenix, but the agency has had no public reaction to recent allegations of Section 8 violations or the beating death of 3-year-old TaJanay Bailey.

An opening to dramatically improve conditions at the Phoenix now exists because RCM Phoenix Partners of Hamden, Conn., the latest in a long line of owners, is preparing to sell the complex. The government has a role in that sale -- one it should exploit by forcing the new owner to clean up the Phoenix.

It sounds easy. But HUD apparently doesn't believe in playing tough. That became clear as I talked with Indianapolis-based officials recently.

During a frustrating meeting Downtown, HUD administrators uttered the unmistakable sounds of buck-passing. The local office, I was told, can't force landlords into specific promises, such as better security. The local office can't order an immediate inspection of troubled properties or withhold Section 8 payments as an incentive to get things cleaned up. Only the slow-moving headquarters in Washington, D.C., can do those things.

It shouldn't be this way.

Couldn't HUD officials hold up the looming sale in return for promises to invest in improvements? Couldn't they demand that the new owners work with groups that provide job training and parenting classes? Couldn't they force the landlord to provide full-time security and make sure those coming into the complex belong there? Couldn't HUD think about ways -- such as mentoring programs -- to provide a more livable existence for the many children who call the Phoenix home?

"Basically, that's something the owner decides," Tony Mitchell, an Indianapolis-based HUD official, said when I asked about programs and security at the Phoenix. "We would like to see a lot of these things materialize, but often they don't."

Of course they don't. Why would they -- unless HUD forces Section 8 landlords to take action? The Phoenix's current owner, part of a larger company called Belfonti Associates, sees only the bottom line. The company "has always believed in acquiring real estate on the basis of its profit-making potential," its Web site says. Don't expect the company to expend any more money or energy than is required.

Nothing will change unless the city and federal governments demand it -- unless Mayor-elect Greg Ballard and Sheriff Frank Anderson make the Phoenix a priority and HUD ties subsidies to living conditions, which it has the authority to do.

Tully is rightfully outraged at the HUD's attitude about the Phoenix. One would think that a company like Belfonti would be ashamed to associate itself with such a sleazy apartment complex given the more prominent real estate venues in which it typically plays such as Manhattan. I would still like to know who the local investors, if any, in the Phoenix are.


Sir Hailstone said...

The question is not asked - so I will. Even Tully admitted the layout of the complex with its maze of dead ends (no, I've never been there, don't want to even when packing heat) the ability to hide from law enforcement is too easy. The reputation of The Meadows is unfortunately permanently stained. Perhaps the solution applied to Brokenburr Trail (aka Brick City) is a solution to the Phoenix problem - demolition. Certainly there is addition Section 8 & 42 housing around the city. Hell, take that money and put it to some of the abandoned homes around north Center Twp.

I don't have all the answers for why low income housing becomes in many cases places like Brick City, Graveyard, and The Meadows. Other than mandatory wealth redistribution schemes is not a solution.

Wilson46201 said...

Lest it be forgotten: H.U.D. is a cabinet-level federal entity under George W. Bush. What kind of "compassionate conservatism" management has your "W" been doing for the last 6 years?

Anonymous said...

Belfonti, operating under the quise of the RCM Phoenix Partners LLC that included local "investors", paid $2.8 million for this old Meadows property in November 2004.
In July 2006 RCM Phoenix Partners LLC acquired a loan for $7 million to be put into this property?
Basic math says they have nearly $10 million in the place.
At auction they will not recoup their investment, who's is going to pay off the loan, the lucky bidder at auction?
Something tell me that whoever made up R, C AND M flat screwed the Belifonti's.
Remember how those "local investors" made a killing off the godforsaken Mozell Sanders Homes that were eventually demolished also in the Meadows.
The Belifonit's don't strike me as the type people to lose money gracefully, especially when they were hoodwinked from the gitgo.
In time, we'll find out who these local investors were.
Od that Tully doesn't care to find out who these people are or does he already know and doesn't want to offend anyone.
Maybe Tully needs to get with some people in Camden to have a look at the names of the partners on the incorporation papers there.
Indiana law does not require LLC "managers" (partners) to be registered here.
The name Phoenix itself implies "rebirth". The name wasn't chosen by chance because Belifonti doesn't name their properties in that manner. This deal was cut with the involvement of local investers.
Who were they Mr. Tully?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Wilson, why back in the 90s when Clinton was president, the meadows and the phoenix apts where the pancion of intellectual thought and art. Yes, it was a mecca for culture, and all the good children went to school, got good grades, and all.

Yup, it just took 7 yrs of Bush to destroy it all.


Anonymous said...

Typical Wilson bullshit. Rather than share in outrage in how poverty exists and our money flowing to line the pockets of the wealthy (more often Democrat than not), Wilson the jerk says....what has Bush done to solve it. Never, I mean never, has this Wilson fool offered a meaningful solution to social problems. I can only conclude that he is a huge part of the problem. This is not a Dem or Rep issue, it is a social issue and it will take everyone holding hands to demand more from those who represent us, and spend our money. I don't five a flying shit about their political party affiliation Wilson. I want accountability in government. You are a JERK. Now, I feel better.

Wilson46201 said...

...and you, sir (or madam as the case may be (chacun a son gout)), are an anonymous nobody too craven to back up your personal name-calling and insults with your own reputation. One can only conclude therefore you have no honor or decency that you would dare use to buttress your fitful calumnies...

Anonymous said...

They should convert the tenants from project based Section 8 to vouchers, and get them out of there. Then tear down the property and redevelop as a more user friendly mixed income development (i.e. not all section 8 tenants). Concentration of poverty does not work and leads to a lot of these issues.

Anonymous said...

I don't have all the answers for why low income housing becomes in many cases places like Brick City, Graveyard, and The Meadows.

The people live like thur, I mean thrid, worlders. Most of these poor folks were not raised with the same standards of living that many in this country have. While Tully wants the landlords of these places to provide all these things, those things costs money. Even at $800/apartment/month, the occupants trash the places so bad, that it becomes a money loser than a money maker.

Sorry, but I don't feel for these folks. They just live life like others. It doesn't matter where you put a Section 8 cesspool, todays occupants live like animals. The really nice Section 8 places all have older people in them, mostly poor due to healthcare bills and such. Funny how one set of poor folks from the WW2 era seems to still be able to act like decent human beings while the baby boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y occupants want to live in turd world conditions. They recently built yet another Section 8 (read Democrat voting complex) in Warren Township to help with Democrat voting in that township. If this place becomes like that of the Phoenix, Meadows, etc., Washington St. and the Washington Sq. area will become a complete wasteland. No one will go there due to the thugs loitering all over the place. Any business that opened thanks to Peterson's tax breaks will close down as soon as the tax breaks are gone. The theft at the Meijer's in Cumberland is awful. That is what happens when you put a Section 8 ghetto in the neighborhood. It can turn the surrounding area into a cesspool. If the money flees, it kills the entire area, businesses close, etc..

Anonymous said...

Squalor is self inflicted.

It would be politically insensitive to suggest that if the residents of Phoenix live in squalor and lawlessness, maybe it is better to have them collected in one spot, famously ruining that neighborhood rather than spreading their mess further abroad.