Going undercover: Hundreds of low-income residents are neglected in Detroit high-rise

regency_0246About this series: In October 2012, I moved into a low-income apartment high-rise on Detroit’s lower east side and began to investigate the treatment of residents, most of whom are seniors, veterans or people with disabilities.    

Eugene Grissom couldn’t wait to get off the streets.

Homeless for years, he turned his life around and found just enough financial help to move into the Regency Towers, a low-income high-rise apartment on the lower east side.

He was paying his bills, getting back on his feet.

Then came the bed bugs – elusive, bloodsucking pests that have infested dozens of other apartments in the building.

Painful sores covered Grissom’s arms and legs. He itched his skin raw. He couldn’t sleep.

“Mr. Grissom was so overly distressed that he was not eating, he lost 10-15 pounds and he had a mental breakdown,” his physician, Dr. Katrice Herndon, said.

No matter what Grissom did, he couldn’t get management to spend the money to eradicate the bugs, as required by law.

Bernard Ragin's apartment is infested with bed bugs, and he can't get management to help.
Bernard Ragin’s apartment is infested with bed bugs, and he can’t get management to help.

Bed bugs are far from the only problem at 1935 Chene, a 20-story building that houses struggling families, fixed-income seniors, people with disabilities and veterans. Residents complaining of cold rooms, leaking roofs, crime, malfunctioning fire alarms, nonworking elevators and lack of hot water have gone unanswered by the St. Louis-based owner and manager of the building, Kohner Properties.

Mailcarriers have been locked out, which is a big problem for people who receive assistance in the mail.

When two fires broke out in the building recently, residents as old as 100 had no idea what to do. Many were incapable of descending the stairs, and some panicked when smoke filled a hallway from a kitchen fire.

In the past two months, the company fired the security and doormen with no explanation, despite rampant crime in the area. Without someone in the lobby to open the door, paramedics, firefighters and cops have been locked out of the building for as long as 15 minutes. One night, while walking my dogs, I saw two paramedics who had been waiting so long that the 911 caller had since become unresponsive.

“You guys are going to have a death on your hands with this,” one of the irritated paramedics told me as I let him in.

Getting this message to Kohner Properies has been next to impossible. For the past 10 days, on-site management has not shown up to work. Corporate headquarters won’t respond.

In the meantime, Bernard Ragin, 41, wishes he never moved back to Detroit. His apartment is infested with bed bugs, and he can’t get management to respond. He’s worried his new furniture will need to be destroyed.

“It’s embarrassing” he said of the bed bugs. “I can’t really have friends or family visit. I’m just stuck here with bed bugs.”

Check back for updates.

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com. 

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, the difference makers and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • mz..walker

    I lived at regency from 8/2008-7/2011..when I first moved there it was a decent quite building. During my 3rd yr of residing their I encountered bed bugs, from out of nowhere!..I told mgmt about these horrible pests numerous of times. I called the city and cried, complained, went to er because I was allergic to the bites, mgmt bombed my apt. 4 times, until my pictures were melting still I was getting bed bug bites!, swelling after each encounter!..I finally couldn’t take the aniexty attacks, sleepless nights, and the unconconcerned staff and mgmt. That I gave them a notice and moved out!…I broke my lease, I could not take this nightmare anymore!…this place was infested, this happened to me in 2011 in july. Now its 5/2014 and they have sent me a letter talking about I owe them monies…this place wass not concerned about their Tenants at all then, and I see they aren’t concerned about them now!

  • Pingback: Second-alarm blaze breaks out at 20-story apartment building in Detroit | Motor City Muckraker()

  • Andrea Elkins

    Any new developments to report?

  • Mdates

    This building had the look, lobby and a nice atmosphere, then you had management who didn’t know what they had, so it went to neglect. My lease is up, so I’m thinking on it!

  • Jimmy

    Here’s a suggestion: move out!

  • Ken

    I’m a social worker in the city and have been working with the homeless population here for the past 6 years. I’ve worked with several clients who lived in this building (not recently though) and it used to be a decent place. Did it change hands at some point? I can’t believe they don’t have anyone at that desk at the front door! That’s a tragedy waiting to happen with the amount of senior citizens in that building. Needless to say, I will not be recommending this place to any of my current clients! Glad I saw this article!

    • Steve Neavling

      Thanks for responding. The current owner is losing money and owes about $10,000 in back taxes. It looks like they are selling it to some grandsons. It’s a very bizarre situation, and getting information is next to impossible.

  • I’ve been curious about all these times of buildings. Keep up the good reporting.

  • Detroiter

    The City shut down half of Buffalo Wild Wings because of a loose railing and refused to let Broderick open because of a 3-second delay in their water sprinklers… but they let garbage like this slide. Very sad for these folks.

    • JImmy

      Apparently Buffalo Wild Wings didn’t realize Detroit is like a military dictatorship in Africa and you need to pass envelopes of money to get past city inspection.

  • bebow

    Slumlords are a blight on the city. Is Kohner Properties paying any taxes?

    • Steve Neavling

      I’m going to be figuring that out soon. I wanted to get the other parts out first. But great question.

    • Steve Neavling

      Kohner is more than $10,000 behind in taxes.