Some tenants from troubled apartments have been relocated, Little Rock officials say

Long-running issues remain at Big Country Chateau

By: - August 10, 2023 6:36 pm
Karen Dykes looks inside the moldy kitchen cabinets at her Big Country Chateau apartment in Little Rock on May 16, 2023. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

Karen Dykes looks inside the moldy kitchen cabinets at her Big Country Chateau apartment in Little Rock on May 16, 2023. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

The city of Little Rock and a local nonprofit have relocated some tenants from a troubled apartment complex on Colonel Glenn Road to more stable housing, city officials said Wednesday and Thursday.

Only 24 of the 151 units at Big Country Chateau remain occupied, city housing director Kevin Howard said in an interview. The city’s goal since June has been to move everyone out of the property with a history of code violations, including ​​mold, broken windows, exposed electrical wiring and scattered garbage.

Deputy City Attorney Alan Jones told Little Rock District Judge Mark Leverett on Thursday that the relocation effort was “slow going, but going forward.”

“Trying to get everybody situated in a proper way where nobody’s left behind does take a Herculean amount of effort,” Jones said.

Tenants expressed frustrations last month that the city had not yet helped them move. Officials were still trying to get help from local housing organizations before bringing tenants into the conversation, Jones said at the time.

“It’s been a slow and confusing process, but I think that it will happen,” Neil Sealy, an organizer with Arkansas Renters United, said in an interview Wednesday.

The city initially sought help from the nonprofit social services agency Our House but did not get a response, Howard said, so officials have instead enlisted 100 Families, an initiative within the local nonprofit Restore Hope. Case managers with 100 Families have been able to assess the individual needs of tenants who have responded to the city’s offer to help them move, Howard said.

He added that the city could not take on the effort of relocating tenants from one troubled complex without being expected to do the same at other complexes.

“Private developers would say, ‘Let’s just go bankrupt and let the city handle the problem,’” Howard said.

Some Big Country Chateau tenants qualify for or already receive housing choice vouchers from the Housing Authority of Little Rock, commonly known as the Metropolitan Housing Alliance, so the agency is helping the city relocate the tenants, Howard said.

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, commonly known as Freddie Mac, owns Big Country Chateau’s mortgage. Howard said the city is waiting for Freddie Mac to give notice of how much financial assistance the corporation is willing to contribute to tenants’ moving expenses.

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Big Country Chateau has been facing a legal challenge from the city over unsafe living conditions since 2019. Additionally, the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office sued the complex, its holding company and its New Jersey-based parent company last year, alleging deceptive business practices.

Sal Thomas, a third-party receiver based in Texas, has been in charge of the complex since he was appointed by a Pulaski County Circuit judge in February. He has neither filed to evict any tenants nor leased out vacant units since then.

Thomas is responsible for collecting rent and utility payments at the complex, but a minority of tenants have been making those payments for the past several months, according to court documents. His attorney, Cody Kees, said Thursday that only seven households paid rent at the most recent collection date.

Leverett will hear another update on the case Sept. 21.

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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.