SC Housing’s oversight of Colony Apartments includes inspections to ensure compliance with federal guidelines

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Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 9:17 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority, also known as SC Housing, is responsible for monitoring affordable housing properties like the Colony Apartments in North Columbia and ensuring that they are in compliance with several federal requirements.

As of Thursday, still more than a third of tenants at the apartment complex remain under an evacuation order.

SC Housing’s oversight includes two inspections of these types of properties every three years.

The first on-site physical inspection is to ensure that the property is in compliance with IRS regulations.

The second, which is known as a HUD Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance review, is conducted to ensure compliance with federal United States Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

Both reviews follow a similar checklist.

The reviews include, but are not limited to, checks for the presence of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, gas leaks, frayed wiring, buckled floors, mildew, and mold.

The most recent compliance monitoring inspection was on March 15 of last year. A final report issued in November found “no outstanding physical deficiencies noted,” according to SC Housing.

The most recent HUD Section 8 review was on December 8. WIS has requested a copy of that report.

That is one day before City of Columbia officials say they alerted property management, the Monroe Group, of a water leak at the complex, which eventually led tenants to go without necessary utilities for days during frigid temperatures.

In a statement, a spokesperson for SC Housing said, “SC Housing has reached out to the management at the Colony Apartments to obtain the recent property citations from the Columbia Fire Department and will review this information with HUD officials upon receipt. We are in communication with the property managers and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Property management is required to hand over any violations to SC Housing under IRS and HUD guidelines.

As of Wednesday, SC Housing had not received any.

If upon receipt of violations a health and safety concern that threatens residents is identified, the property has 24 hours to address the issue to ensure tenants’ safety.

In a non-emergency situation, the property has 30 days to address such a deficiency, according to SC Housing.

WIS has also requested copies of fire code violations at the Colony Apartments from the last two years.

If Colony Apartments management is found to be in noncompliance with federal requirements, they could face several repercussions.

Those include a possible three-year suspension from participation in any agency-administered programs, permanent loss of federal funding, or a hindrance in its ability to increase rents.

WIS asked whether the property was currently in compliance.

The agency could not provide a clear answer to that question on Thursday.

After failing to respond to multiple requests for comment over the last week, Monroe Group sent WIS a statement Wednesday night, which reads in part: “Monroe Group’s sole priority at all times has been the safe and prompt return of our tenants to their homes… We will not further comment to the press, as we stay committed to using all our resources towards the safe return of our tenants.”

When asked about this statement, one Colony Apartments tenant, who wished to remain anonymous to speak candidly about her experience there, said, “I don’t even put my trust in them no more.”

“Like if it wasn’t for the situation that happened that day with the girl passing, we would’ve still been in that same boat,” she said.

The woman is referring to the murder that took place on the property on Tuesday, December 27. While investigating that case, tenants alerted Columbia Police of the living conditions, and lack of adequate heat and water.

She added that the most frustrating thing about this situation has been a lack of communication from management.

“No one really keeps us updated,” she said. “We have to hear from you guys. We have to see the news.”

The woman, who has an 8-month-old baby, said she has “no hope” at this point, and Monroe Group staff has made her feel “worthless.”

“When it comes to the office, they don’t even really, they don’t care,” she said. “They just really brush it off. Like they’ll ask you questions to make it seem like they care, but they don’t really care out here. And then these people that say, ‘Don’t blame it, you can’t blame it on the Colonys’,’ well who else to blame it on? They knew this situation was going on. Why didn’t you fix it when it first started? You wait until the last minute to do things.”

Both SC Housing and HUD said that if tenants are not satisfied with management, and notice deficiencies in their units or the development overall, they are urged to contact SC Housing’s compliance department.

That number is 803-896-8726.

In a statement, SC Housing said, “All reports received trigger SC Housing intervention on a case-by-case basis. Each complaint is investigated by SC Housing and tracked through resolution. The complainant is notified by SC Housing of the outcome. This action occurs regardless of the date of the last inspection of the property.”

In situations like this, HUD continues its monitoring to ensure repairs are made and the property owner is providing “decent, safe, and sanitary housing as specified in their contract with HUD.”

HUD provided WIS with a statement on the situation at Colony Apartments, which reads in part, “The wellbeing of the residents at Colony Apartments is HUD’s priority and the Department is closely monitoring the situation. All residents were relocated after the water and heating incident occurred. The costs of the relocation were covered by the owner. After repairs are made, the residents will be returning to their homes as local authorities determine that the property is safe for occupancy.”

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