By Alton Porter
Crockett Housing Authority (CHA) Executive Director Kelley Stotts and the CHA Board of Commissioners got to see firsthand the outstanding work their maintenance staff does in cleaning up and making ready vacant apartments during a tour Thursday, May 19.
Following a relatively short special meeting of the board, Maintenance Foreman Mark Stephenson led the executives on a tour of three of the public housing authority's apartment units.
The units are located at two of CHA's four sites – one on Dodson Dr. and the other on Sallas St.
To give the executive director and commissioners a glimpse of the work that goes into making ready an apartment for a new tenant after a renter moves out, one of the units Stephenson showed them on Dodson had been recently vacated and was filthy. The other Dodson unit and the one on Sallas have been "made ready" for a new tenant; they are immaculate.
The differences between the unready unit and the two made-ready units were stark, and Kelly and the commissioners said they were impressed with the work the maintenance staff had performed on the spruced up units.
Stephenson told the Courier the purpose of the tour was to show the executive director and the board what the maintenance staff is faced with in making ready an apartment after a tenant moves out and before a new one moves in and why it often takes several days to make units available after a tenant vacates the unit.
"Kelley is awesome," Stephenson said. "Communication is always the key, and people want to know why it takes this long (to turn an apartment around). We thought it was a good idea to let (the executives) see what we do. To let them see what (a unit) looked like before make-ready versus what it looks like now. The contrast is amazing."
Stephenson added, "When you look at (the work that goes into preparing a unit), you go 'okay, well it took five days. Wow, that is good.'"
He said, on average, it takes "about eight days – sometimes 14, sometimes four" to get an apartment ready for a new tenant after another one moves out.
Stephenson said, if an apartment is not left in poor condition, turn-around time could be as quickly as "a day or two." In situations like that, he said, his staff might only have to polish the floor and touch up the paint on the walls and ceiling.
On the other hand, when one is left like the unkempt one on Dodson Drive, "then you're looking at 14 days, he said, adding, "we're going to have to tear the cabinets out and the floor up."
"So, we thought, if everybody (at CHA) is on the same page and the board gets to see night and day exactly what it looks like," everyone will understand what's involved in preparing an apartment unit," Stephenson said. "That was the whole purpose" of the tour.
He said, "we're actually, for maybe the first time, going to be a hundred percent occupied which is awesome. We were down 30 units two months ago," but the goal is to have all units rented out by the first of June. The units that were down were not in rent condition, he added.
Office Manager Brittany Stapp said, currently there are "only three apartments down" throughout the CHA properties.
After touring the three apartments, Stephenson led Stotts and the commissioners on a walk-through of the laundry room and community room at the authority's New Site apartment complex where improvements are being made as part of a pilot project.
As part of the test project in the laundry room, located on George Briggs Street at Rose Street, much needed washing machines and tumble dryers are being installed. The purpose of the project is to determine whether it would be feasible to refurbish the laundry rooms on all four of CHA's housing complex sites.
Board President Bobby Bowlin said none of the laundry rooms at any of the four sites has had washing and drying equipment for the last four years, and the outcome of the test at New Site will determine whether laundry rooms at other sites will be equipped with washers and dryers.
The test will show how the improvements are received by New Site residents. If the new equipment is well accepted and not abused, CHA will move forward, installing it in wash rooms on all sites.
Each wash-rinse cycle on the washing machines will cost $2, and a drying cycle will cost $1.50.
To reduce the potential for vandalism and theft of the machines, card technology will be used and they won't accept cash. Residents will have to go to the authority's office building on Fannin Avenue to obtain cards from an ATM-like machine and to add value to the cards. According to Bowlin and Stephenson, at least $5 must be added to a card on each visit.
Since no cash will be accepted by the washers and dryers, the only place where cash will be received is at the secured machine at the office on Fannin. This will help cut down on crime, Bowlin said.
At the meeting before the tour, Stotts said, "We are getting close to opening the doors [to the laundry room at New Site]. She added, "The machine [at the Fannin office] has been installed and it is working."
The improvements to the laundry and community rooms at New Site will amount to a complete interior make-over of the rooms, including the installation of new flooring and countertops, fresh coats of paint on the walls and ceiling, and other upgrades.
The next day after the tour, Stotts shared her thoughts with the Courier. "Of course, I'm involved with CHA activities on a daily basis," she said. "I came onboard as the new executive director on March 1, and I had a whole new attitude and enthusiasm to turn this place around. We're just excited about redoing it and making it nice and clean."
Stotts continued, "I am so impressed and amazed at the progress [the maintenance staff] has made out there" in making apartments available for new tenants after renters move out.
She added, "I was glad to see our commissioners are onboard with us and that they see the changes we're making and the improvements we're making and I think we're just excited to go forward."
About the test project at the laundry room on Briggs Street, Stotts explained, the previous executive director "had taken the laundry facilities [throughout CHA properties] offline because of the conditions of the washers and dryers that had resulted from abuse by tenants. He had shut it down and put it on the back burner."
"So, when I came onboard, I knew we had to get the laundry facilities up and running for the people, for the tenants," Stotts said. "Therefore, we've gone forward. This is kind of our first step in getting our laundry facilities back up. So, it's going to basically be in the hands of our tenants. We tell them, 'if you don't take care of it, there's consequences.'"
"I'm enthusiastic about it," she said. "I totally believe they're going to take care of the nice facility and I believe we're going to be able to move forward and get this kind of facility in each one of our sites."
Stotts continued, "I'm an ED who really wants to get involved with the tenants, and so does my staff. We're excited. We want to build a relationship with them. I want to be able to do more with them during the summer with the kids. We want to do something for June 19th, including possibly entering a float in the Juneteenth parade."
"There's just a lot I want to do," she said. "We're kind of limited on money, but when I get it I will be spending it out there and using it on the [apartment] houses, putting it back in the assets of the housing authority and being able to spend what money I can to produce things for the kids and get us involved in the community. I'm just thrilled to be here, excited, and want to make a difference.