INDIANAPOLIS — Amber Phelps couldn’t wait to show me around the backside of the Martindale Apartments where an Indianapolis Housing Agency crew was literally digging into the garbage that buried the dumpster in the parking lot of the public housing property.
“There’s trash filled up behind me, they’re filling up the dumpsters, there’s more mice infestation, it’s just gotten a lot worse,” she said, recalling the last time we talked in early June. “Inside we have mouse infestation, floods, the same thing, they’re eating through the walls now, it’s just getting really bad, unbearable to live.”
Dozens of black rat boxes, left untouched or emptied since they were deployed in the winter, are nestled up against the foundations of the townhouses IHA spent $10 million just three years ago to build and open.
“It seems like ever since they put them out, people have complained more about rodents running through their homes,” said Aunyae Hunt. “Everything has been going down as far as the management, we’ve been seeing different people in and out, now we have just absolutely no one in there. You can’t reach anyone.”
At the top of the troubled IHA public housing pyramid is Interim Executive Director Marcia Lewis, who said she’s thinking “out of the box” on how to solve The Martindale’s rodent problem.
“We are actually going to employ the use of feral cats,” she said, calling in help from Animal Care & Control. “I have two pest control companies that have been working out there.”
Lewis said her staff of four maintenance workers spends Mondays and Tuesdays picking up trash, so, she just received additional funding from the city to hire temporary employees to do basic unit repairs.
“The city has given me granted me $250,000 to hire some temporary maintenance workers. Eleven of them started today,” she said. “We’ve been trying to work with tenants on understanding how to clean up their units.”
Sitting on her front stoop and surveying a trash-strewn parking lot, Hunt said her neighbors could do a better job of keeping the property clean.
“We’re just sitting and living in our situation and it doesn’t help with the people that actually live here, they’re not helping to keep it clean, maintaining it and keeping it clean,” she said. “They’re just throwing their trash out and just, well, if nobody’s gonna get it up, they’re not gonna get it up.”
Security cameras are in various states of disrepair at all the properties and throughout Hawthorn and Beechwood Garden, two locations where a private management company is taking over, abandoned and damaged apartments lie open and unoccupied while public housing applicants languish on waiting lists as IHA’s occupancy rate is 88%, significantly below the federal government’s 95% goal.
“There are over 90 windows that need to be replaced at Hawthorn and Beechwood,” said Lewis, “and we chase our tails essentially trying to keep them boarded and keep them closed so they don’t become a public safety issue but we are continually running behind.”
At the 15-story Lugar Tower near downtown, residents said their hallways are overrun with homeless persons.
“They come in quite often. I found one this week in the laundry room. This is not the first time. Other people found the on other floors. There’s a lot of drug trafficking in here,” said Lynn Davenport. “It smells in there. The laundry room, somebody, unfortunately, used it as a bathroom. I called maintenance about it, it’s still there. It got worse. Now it’s got trash all over top of it. I don’t get it.”
John Hall, the former Executive Director of IHA who spent three years digging into the financial and operational mismanagement of the agency before departing in January, has begun his new job as the leader of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services in Spokane, Washington.
Mayor Hogsett is expected to name Hall’s permanent replacement this fall.