ST. LOUIS — Representatives of a real estate development company said Wednesday they were shocked to find out that an inspection firm contracted by the federal government gave a troubled northwest St. Louis apartment complex a 93/100 rating.
“It’s surprising to me that they would get that score,” Justin Unger, development manager for Denver-based Steele Properties, told the Post-Dispatch in the parking lot at Hillvale Apartments, adding that “everything, basically,” needs to be fixed.
Steele is in the process of buying the 146-unit complex at 5830 Selber Court from New Jersey-based Treetop Companies.
The $34 million deal, which is supposed to close in September, is on track to include millions of dollars in incentives, including $15.7 million in low-income housing tax credits, a tax-exempt bond up to $15.5 million, and other assistance. The city’s Industrial Development Authority cancelled a Thursday meeting expected to consider final approval of the bond.
Unger said Wednesday he is seeking additional incentives from tax abatements.
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A recent in-depth report in the Post-Dispatch showed that Hillvale, built in 1967, has been covered by a Project Based Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments Contract that guaranteed millions of dollars in rent to owners for years. Yet reporting revealed deplorable living conditions and the inspection report from an unnamed firm contracted through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that gave Hillvale a 93/100 rating, or essentially an “A.” If broader challenges aren’t addressed in the neighborhood near Natural Bridge and Goodfellow, some questioned the long-term sustainability of the redevelopment.
Lisa Trujillo, vice president of the Monroe Group, the firm expected to manage Hillvale under new ownership, and others, said on site Wednesday that she was surprised the inspection didn’t fail or come close to failing. Still, she said, Monroe Group has improved places like Hillvale in other parts of the country.
“Our success is because of the partnerships that we engage in with cities and all their resources,” said Trujillo. “We have to build trust together. Let’s do it, let’s turn it around.”
Unger said Monroe Group is affiliated with Steele Properties. He said they work together with the management firm at multiple properties because “we don’t like giving up that control.”
He said there would be maintenance workers on site of the redevelopment and that, in addition to state and federal inspections, a regional maintenance team would inspect Hillvale quarterly. According to records submitted to the city, Steele has completed over $1 billion in acquisitions, sales and developments in 24 states, including more than 65 tax-credit projects.
Asked what the city could do to help at Hillvale, Unger said: “The biggest thing is taking care of the trash.”
Anna Richardson, the long-time on-site manager of Hillvale, said security is at the top of her list. As is, if management sees somebody in the parking lot wearing a ski mask and displaying a large firearm, they call police and leave for their own safety. She said she understands that police also have families to go home to.
“Hopefully they come,” she said.
Since 2019, there have been more than 1,400 emergency calls for service logged with police from the area. Treetop, the current owners, invested in a surveillance system, but they haven’t been providing security officers. Richardson said the complex recently received an offer to staff off-duty police officers there.
There are broader forces beyond the complex boundary that are obstacles for families to succeed in the area — regional disinvestment, struggling schools, shootings, sex trafficking and trash. A neighboring large lot recently had a mountain of alley debris and other detritus dumped there by the city, a source of concern for Hillvale residents fighting an infestation of mice.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said the city-owned lot was recently cleared after Betherny Williams, director of Streets, Traffic & Refuse, read about the situation in the newspaper. In prepared remarks, Williams said Wednesday that the lot is used for the “temporary storage” of green waste and debris collected on the weekends when the Waste Management transfer station on the north riverfront is not open. She said city refuse crews typically collect trash and debris left on that site on Mondays to deliver to Waste Management for sorting before taken to the landfill.
“The long-term plan for this lot is to keep it clean and maintained for future uses,” Williams said.
While the mountain has been cleared, the city continues to dump in the northwest corner of the lot, across from an hourly motel on Hamilton Avenue.
Tommy Howard, 27, was there Wednesday, climbing the pile, looking for things to salvage, he said, so he could “eat and do what I want to do.”
His friend Christina Dixon, 40, walked the nearby alley, catching the attention of passing motorists. She described a life of challenges, including getting pregnant at 13.
“It all boils down to drugs,” she said, “and how all of us growed up with parents who was into drugs. I’ve seen mothers prostitute just to get money for their kids. Pay a bill. All sorts of stuff. I’ve done it.”