Uncomfortable wait

Renters look for the end of a promised renovation.

Published May 29, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Last summer, the owners of James Park Apartments moved Sylvia Bates to a new apartment while the property was being renovated.

"It wasn't a handicapped place, " Bates said recently. "They just threw something together to put me in."

Apartment managers promised that the unit would accommodate her wheelchair. Almost a year later, she's still waiting. The assistance bar in the bathroom is in the wrong place. Her kitchen faucet still sprays water across the counter. The lock on the back door is no good. Worst of all, there is no wheelchair ramp at her back door.

"If a fire breaks out in the front, I can't get out, " Bates said.

Bates is not the only one complaining about shoddy workmanship and code violations at James Park, at 1050 and 1051 Third Ave. N.

"Enough is enough for all these residents, " said David Molodecki, who recently moved to James Park with his family. "All I want is for them to do what's right for the people."

James Park was owned by Pinellas County until 2005, when it was sold to American Opportunity for Housing-James Park Limited Partnership. American Opportunity, based in San Antonio, Texas, agreed it would refurbish the property and provide affordable housing for low-income residents as part of the $3.8-million deal.

But Molodecki said the property has not been renovated. He cited a litany of complaints that included dangerous playground equipment, causing closure of the playground, and exposed electrical wiring.

He said he has complained to several officials but has received no satisfaction.

Frank Bowman of the Pinellas County Housing Finance Authority said it did not surprise him that code violations might exist. The renovation is not complete, he said, and until it is, problems are likely to surface.

St. Petersburg officials say they have responded to residents' concerns. Since May 1, they have issued code citations for performing work without a permit, broken air conditioners, switch plates too small to cover electrical outlets, broken and cracked windows, dripping faucets and a pothole in the driveway.

Todd Yost, assistant director for codes compliance, said the lack of a second wheelchair ramp is not a code violation. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose rules are governing the renovation, requires a second ramp only for new construction or in a "substantial" rehabilitation. James Park is neither.

As for the citations, none can be classified as serious, he said. American Opportunity is solving the problems, Yost said.

David Starr, president of American Opportunity, did not return phone calls asking for comment. But he wrote the city a letter on May 23 saying that the rehab is in progress and is scheduled to be finished this year.

"Whenever a rehabilitation of this size and magnitude is undertaken ... without exception, there are some failures in the work product or some tenant dissatisfaction, " Starr wrote.

"It is our intention, and has always been our intention, to insure to the tenants and the community that we will deliver acceptable housing units and we will assist every tenant with their problems or concerns."

Starr said the James Park management company has been notified that it must make tenant satisfaction and property maintenance a "primary concern." He also pledged to replace the playground equipment within the next three weeks.