City condemns apartments as new owners ponder makeover|UNFIT FOR HUMAN LIFE

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vicksburg officials have had enough of the 12 federally subsidized apartments in the former Speed Street School, condemning the building as unfit for human life and giving 30 residents 30 days to move out.

“It is unsafe to live in,” inspections chief Victor Gray-Lewis said. “The living conditions inside are deplorable.”

New owners said they were already planning a makeover, however, and the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority, which has processed paperwork and made payments to the former owner, had already notified the residents to be out when the month ends a week from today. The MRHA cited as its reason that the new owner had not qualified for public funds.

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A city inspection of the three-story brick structure revealed backed-up sewage and stinking water saturating wooden floors — in one instance caving in a ceiling in a basement apartment.

The problems are not new. In the lease signed by Michelle Myles, 28, occupant of a second-floor unit since June 2007, she is also required to acknowledge the presence of toxic, lead-based paint in her apartment.

She pays $29 monthly and the rest of her rent, $362, has been paid to the landlord, identified as William P. Joseph Jr., a Jackson-based housing development operator, by MRHA. He could not be reached.

The new owner of the 8,300-square-foot building is identified as Marshall Street LLC, which listed local investor Glenn Campbell as managing officer.

At the building on Speed at Marshall streets Monday, Campbell, said a “ground-up restoration” under way for months will involve installing new central air conditioning and replacing plumbing he said has been ravaged by years of neglect and misuse.

Crews worked Monday to begin assessing the cost of renovating the century-old structure. “There’s really nothing you can do except tear the stuff out,” Campbell said. “We’re going to fix it back like it was as long as it’s not cost-prohibitive.”

Many apartments are inhabited by single heads of households with children as young as 4 months.

During city inspections, water leaking from a second-floor unit caved in the roof of Kimberly Carr’s apartment, claiming furniture and adding to the odor inside the building.

“Water was just raining from up there,” Carr said, adding much of her furniture was ruined.

Other residents spoke of the long history of poor conditions inside the complex. “It’s pathetic,” said Erica Clark, 21, adding her problems began with a leaky toilet and have worsened to include sewage finding its way into almost every inch of her apartment.

Most tenants have lived there less than 18 months, but there are exceptions, including Mary Lee, 62. “I guess I’m just going to move on because I can’t be on the street,” Lee said.

For about the first 50 years of its existence, the building was a school, the design still evident in its corridors and classroom-sized apartments.

City directories indicate its conversion to the American Legion Apartments by the late 1940s. In the past 20 years, rental units at the site have been federally subsidized.

Any transition of the residents to publicly owned housing, including homes and apartments managed by Vicksburg Housing Authority, appeared unlikely. The VHA requires steady employment of its tenants, 100 percent of whom pay utilities and at least some rent.

The school, between Drummond and Washington streets, is in a mixed-use area of old Vicksburg. Nearby, tour homes and mansions abut dilapidated structures.