INDIANAPOLIS — Renters at four Indianapolis apartment complexes are speaking out and demanding answers after being told their utilities could be shut off soon.
The property owners, JPC Affordable Housing, owe more than $1.8 million to Citizens Energy Group, and the utility company has threatened to shut off service if an agreement is not made by September 30.
On Wednesday, the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis hosted a town hall for tenants of all four complexes – Berkley Commons, Covington Square, Capital Place Apartments, and Woods at Oaks Crossing.
One by one, tenants approached a microphone and addressed representatives from the Mayor’s office, Citizens Energy Group, the Marion County Health Department, and other elected officials and legal groups.
“The fact of the matter is: You’re all caught in the middle,” said Jeff Bennett, the city’s deputy mayor of Community Development. “You’ve been paying your rent. You’ve been paying your water bill as a part of your rent. Your world has been turned upside down in the last 30 days because you fully expected that your property owner was paying the bills… and they have not been.”
For tenants living at Berkley Commons and Capital Place, this isn’t the first time this year they have faced utility shut-offs. In February, both complexes had their water services turned off temporarily by Citizens over unpaid bills. Back then, the City of Indianapolis paid off a large portion of the unpaid bills to restore utilities for tenants.
Bennett said thanks to that payment, a lawsuit was able to be filed on behalf of the city. He said the goal is to have new, better ownership take over.
“I wish we were here to announce [agreements] have been signed, but I think we’re within a few days of those agreements being signed,” said Bennett.
“Often times people ask why can’t we just write off that amount? Magically make it go away? Well, the problem is, when we have unpaid debt like that – ultimately that debt has to be paid for by the remaining customer base,” said Dan Considine, manager of Corporate Communications with Citizens Energy Group. “And in a time during inflation and more people living paycheck to paycheck, we feel that we have a solemn responsibility to you to make sure that we’re not passing on the debts of irresponsible property owners.”
Both city officials and representatives of Citizens Energy assured tenants that utilities should remain connected come September 30, but none could say for certain.
“What can we do in order to make sure that we’re not homeless by the end of September,” said Rochelle Pettigrew-Wright, a current tenant at Woods at Oak Crossing on the city’s near northwest side. “I’m hoping to get more of an understanding about what’s going to happen.”
Rochelle said she attended Wednesday’s town hall in hopes to get some clarity. If utilities are cut at the end of next month, she said she would need to move. Rochelle said she started looking for a new place to live, but then realized she cannot afford to move.
“No I cannot afford that. My husband and I are on a fixed income,” said Rochelle. “I have went to several complexes, and they’re all very expensive. They want $1,300 – $1,400 a month. Plus you have to put your deposit down, utilities…”
“Housing is kind of limited in our city and many [tenants] have started looking but then when they can’t find anything they’re like ‘Well what am I going to do now?’ and so we’re trying to provide some information and some leadership in that area,” said Rev. David Greene Sr., president of the Concerned Clergy Of Indianapolis and Senior Pastor at Purpose of Life Ministries.
Rev. Greene said the Concerned Clergy Of Indianapolis created a list of requests they would like to see be considered during negotiations with both current or new owners:
- Tenants wanting out of their lease should get out with no penalty
- Tenants wanting out of their lease should receive return on initial deposit
- Tenants who want out of their lease should receive compensation for moving costs
- Mayor should create Emergency Response Team
- New owner must commit to renewing current tenants’ leases at no more than 10% increases
- New owner must agree to give tenants 60 days to catch up on back rent accrued during recent crisis
- New owner must commit to specific repairs and improvements to property and must provide timeline for completion