FOX 8 Defenders: CEO vows to clean up The Willows apartments
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After Fox 8 reports detailed what residents call unacceptable living conditions, New Orleans code enforcement inspectors show up at The Willows apartment complex. As they were there, the CEO of the non-profit that owns the complex called to give his side of the story.
Just two days after our first story on the Willows apartment complex aired, city inspectors, joined by the president of the city council, Helena Moreno, showed up at the property. Taking pictures and compiling reports, officials inspected Caroline Bailey’s home with a gaping hole in the ceiling and other units with visible damage. Also on-site was property manager Candran Lemieux.
“Due to the overflow of trash dumpsters, they weren’t moving as fast. So when you guys caught us, you caught us with some of the trash still lingering around. But since then we’ve removed most of the trash,” Lemieux told us.
The complaints from residents prompted this action. Cierra Dobard first called the FOX 8 Defenders after she says repeated requests for help from management proved futile.
“We complained to the office several times. I talked to the owner. I talked to management and I told them we’ve been having all kinds of issues,” Dobard said.
While code enforcement walked the property, checking for violations, a representative of Dr. Richard Hamlet arrived. Hamlet is an ordained minister and the CEO of the Tennessee-based non-profit Global Ministries Foundation that owns The Willows. After denying previous requests for an interview, Hamlet said over the phone that COVID and Ida put them “in bad optics.”
“This is one building with seven units with some repairs that were done post-storm by a qualified licensed roofing contractor,” Hamlet said. “Some of the issues with the air conditioning units on the roof... there were leaks coming in apparently and water was protruding in those units and in the ceiling over a period of time.”
Hamlet contends his managers walked the property after Hurricane Ida and didn’t see any of the conditions that we detailed in our first story, like the hole in Bailey’s bedroom, the ceiling caving in another room or the sinking wall in Dobard’s home.
“These units did not have this damage last October because these people would have been removed from those units at that time,” Hamlet explained.
Dobard and Bailey disagree, saying they’ve been dealing with these conditions and others for years and they’ve only worsened.
Hamlet says he was at the property this spring to see for himself what was going on at The Willows. While he says he didn’t go into Dobard or Bailey’s homes, Bailey says she showed him pictures of the hole, and yet, a month later, when we showed up to investigate, it still wasn’t fixed.
FOX 8 DEFENDERS: Residents complain of unsafe living conditions at The Willows
“That was my directive that they get moved to other units so that nobody would be in a unit that had the leaks that continued because that is not acceptable,” Hamlet said. “That’s what I can tell you from the CEO’s standpoint. If there’s been any breakdown in communication from a management standpoint, our goal is to not have that happen again, obviously.”
As far as other damage at the complex, like torn down fences, busted-out windows, and broken mailboxes, Hamlet says finding qualified workers to clean up the place proved challenging during the pandemic.
While we spoke to Hamlet, management arranged for Bailey to be put up in another unit but a quick check of that unit revealed it too had damage. So instead, she was sent to a hotel, so crews could get to work, fixing the hole and the sagging ceiling in another bedroom.
“Most likely they’re gonna have to go up there and make some patches and repairs to that roof so once that’s rectified then we’ll be able to go in and remove the sheetrock,” Lemieux explained.
Hamlet vows, he’s going to make it right.
“I don’t want any resident to be in a situation that’s not quality housing and I’m going to do everything I can do. And I’m going to commit to New Orleans to do the best I can to spend our money like we are, to make this property... to turn it around... to make it a shining light in that community,” Hamlet continued.
After we spoke to Hamlet, crews showed up at both Dobard’s and Bailey’s homes to begin the necessary repairs.
Hamlet issued the following letter:
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