North Little Rock renters fed up with poor living conditions

Louisiana-based development company says third-party oversight was disappointing; promises responsive management in the near future

By: - November 22, 2022 7:01 pm

From left: Chandra Profit, Kristina Kinsey and Sheila Noble participate in a news conference in which North Little Rock renters, themselves included, discuss their problems with the management of Hickory View, where Profit and Noble live, and Hillside Pointe, where Kinsey lives and where the news conference was held. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Moving out of a black mold-infested apartment and into a safer one was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air for Daffany Payne and her seven children, she said Tuesday.

However, Payne received a bill for $4,000 worth of repairs at her previous apartment, putting her in debt for problems she did not cause, she told reporters as she stood in front of the 21st Street unit she used to live in.

“It’s right behind me with a hatchet and pitchfork, and I don’t know what my next step should be,” she said.

Payne was one of several current or former residents of five North Little Rock apartment complexes riddled with unsafe and unhealthy living conditions and unfulfilled requests for help from Knight Development, a Louisiana company contracted to manage the apartments.

The tenants’ rights advocacy group Arkansas Renters United helped tenants organize the latest of several news conferences meant to call attention to poor living conditions in North Little Rock low-income housing.

Knight Development, formerly BGC Advantage, is the primary owner of Hillside Pointe, The Homes at Pine Crossing, Cedar Gardens, Hickory View and Maple Place, the five North Little Rock Housing Authority complexes represented Tuesday.

NLRHA is one of many public housing agencies in Arkansas and nationwide participating in the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the goal of gaining funding for maintenance and renovations.

Under RAD, private companies like Knight Development take over the leases of the low-income housing complexes, though the housing authorities still own the land. This private ownership allows housing authorities to secure millions in private funds for maintenance, repairs and renovations.

Those repairs haven’t been done, and neglecting them puts lives in danger, said Alesha Williams, a Hickory View resident whose Type 1 diabetes gives her seizures and neuropathy. The heat in her apartment doesn’t work, but a repairman who visited the complex said her unit was “not on the list” even though she called management more than 30 times asking for help, she said.

The lack of action makes Williams suspicious that Knight Development is “pocketing money” instead of using it to make the apartments livable, she said.

“You have to follow the money, so where’s the money going?” Williams said. “Because I don’t see it out here.”

North Little Rock tenants told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last year that it’s sometimes unclear who is responsible for repairs and maintenance in complexes going through the RAD program.

Two third-party companies previously managed the properties for Knight Development and “consecutively failed to meet their obligations to us and our residents,” Knight’s chief marketing officer Christianne Brunini said in an emailed statement.

Knight Development recently started managing the properties directly through its sister company, M&T Property Management, also based in Louisiana.

“Over the coming months, we are confident our residents will notice an appreciable difference in the visibility and quality of management, including the responsiveness to work orders,” Brunini said.

Arkansas’ required minimum standards for rental housing became law in 2021 and mandate hot and cold running water, potable drinking water, electricity, a sanitary sewer system, a functioning roof, and a functioning heating and cooling system.

But tenants’ advocates have said the law needs more teeth, including a mechanism to prevent tenants from retaliation for complaining about living conditions.

Lakeshia Murray said her rent increased as a result of a complaint. She was the previous tenant in the Hillside Pointe unit where Payne used to live.

When the apartment had a gas leak, Murray and her children spent two nights in a hotel. Management promised to fully reimburse her but only sent her a check for part of the cost, she said.

Murray spent hours boiling water so that she and her children could bathe when the apartment did not have a gas meter to provide hot water, she said. She and Williams both claimed there has been a revolving door of individual property managers, which leads to confusion when trying to get help.

“When you tell one person something, it goes to the next person, and it’s like they pass the buck on to the next person and nothing really gets done,” Murray said.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.