Residents voice frustrations over Colonial Village as Columbus pursues legal action
Once the sewage water began bubbling up into his bathtub, Richard Steele knew it was time to leave.
Colonial Village apartments on Columbus' East Side had been his home for five years, but the past four months have been spent living nearby with his sister after Steele, 59, said his residence became uninhabitable.
Photos reviewed by the Dispatch show a bleak environment Steele said he could no longer tolerate: a living room ceiling that appears to be caving in, sewage water bubbling up in the bathtub and the kitchen sink, and rotted carpeting.
Although he was homeless for a time, Steele said he'd prefer a shelter over his subsidized apartment.
"What do I have to be proud about?" Steele said. "No human should have to live like this."
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He's hardly the only one experiencing such squalor at Colonial Village, located off Livingston Avenue between Hamilton and James roads in the Eastmoor neighborhood.
Residents voice complaints to Columbus, Legal Aid attorneys
On Wednesday night, more than 100 residents gathered at the nearby Barnett Community Center for a public forum hosted by the city where they vented their frustrations.
During the meeting, city officials and attorneys with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus also informed residents about their tenant rights and presented updates about a lawsuit that Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein's office filed in April against the apartment owner.
Staff with Legal Aid had gone door to door last week passing out fliers about the forum to residents.
"There's been a lot of questions from the people who live there about what's going on," said Melissa Benson, managing attorney of Legal Aid's housing team in Columbus. "We want to make sure the tenants who live there and the neighbors who have questions have the opportunity to get information from us."
High rates of crime at Colonial Village
Built in 1964 and 1965, Colonial Village has for years been the center of alleged criminal activity and housing code violations that prompted Klein's office to take legal action.
On April 14, Assistant City Attorney Tiara Ross filed a complaint with Franklin County Environmental Court, a specialized court created to streamline oversight and adjudication of housing code violations and nuisance properties. The complaint named several defendants, including Columbus-based Apex Colonial, which became the property owner in March 2020, and Westerville-based Aloft Management, which became property manager around the same time.
"This is one of the most egregious cases we've ever had," Ross told the Dispatch after the forum. "Everything residents said confirmed what I already felt, and it was heartbreaking hearing the stories."
The 508-unit apartment complex, which is one of the largest affordable housing providers in the city, was highlighted in the Dispatch's series of stories in summer 2020 about violence in the city. And a study done internally by Columbus police also identified the area of the apartment complex as the area in the city with the highest probability of getting shot.
Three homicides have occurred on the premises since 2019, according to the complaint, most recently on May 28 when 68-year-old John W. Walker Jr. was found fatally shot by officers outside.
In October 2019, Columbus Code Enforcement conducted an inspection of the property and found more than 400 housing code violations, according to the complaint. Violations included bed bugs, rodents and roach infestations, broken utilities and interior and exterior damages.
Seventy-eight units on the property were inspected again in March, when 182 violations were issued, including for some of the same violations that were noted in 2019.
What the city is doing about it
The city reached an agreement on April 30 with the defendants, who stipulated to several conditions:
- Resuming either private security forces or contracting for special duty services with the Columbus Division of Police
- Remedying remaining code violations outlined by Columbus Code Enforcement.
- Boarding up the roughly 130 vacant units.
- Submitting a written plan establishing when exterior code violations will be remedied.
- Adding a crime-lease addendum that could be cause for eviction for anyone engaging in criminal activity on the property.
The deadline for those stipulations to be met is July 31, Ross said, and a preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Aug. 3. However, asked by the Dispatch how confident she is in the progress being made, she said that code enforcement has not done any inspections since the agreement, which means the property manager has not reached out to the department.
Meanwhile, residents like Corlinda Wright, 48, who has lived at Colonial Village for three years, are losing their patience.
"I would like to see Colonial Village actually do what they're supposed to do; I'm tired," Wright said. "I don't know what else to do. I have nowhere else to go."