Demise of a Detroit high-rise: How out-of-state slumlord neglected low-income residents

Regency Towers CheneAbout 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 and people with disabilities. Little did I know what I was in for. 

The problems started when the St. Louis owner of the 20-story Regency Towers fired security in January.

Thieves began stealing catalytic converters in broad daylight. Drug dealers, thugs and other troublemakers loitered in the lobby, pulled fire alarms and stole from unsuspecting residents. When residents pleaded with the property manager, Kohner Properties, to bring back security, their response was always the same: “We can’t afford to.”

An overwhelming stench wafts from heaps of garbage and chunks of raw meat strewn across the lawn where the grass is hip-high in many areas.

While residents are deprived of a safe, clean environment, the company is raking in federal tax subsidies for low-income residents and people with disabilities. In the meantime, the company stopped paying its own taxes to the cash-starved city beginning in 2011, leading to its forfeiture in March, Wayne County records show.

Filthy conditions, bed bug infestations and poor air quality are routinely dismissed by the one remaining office manager, who has slammed the office door on tenants and even pounded me with a long, heavy set of keys earlier this month when I asked why she was ignoring residents’ complaints. So furious, she deactivated my electronic keys for the weekend in an illegal effort to keep me out of the building.

“They’re letting the place go,” the maintenance man, Charles Marshall, told me two weeks ago. “I have no supplies left. I can’t make repairs. They even stopped paying me.”

A few hours after the maintenance supervisor overheard Marshall talking to me, the company fired him.

On Friday, the company also terminated the building’s only cleaning person, Lucy, whose frustrations with an increased workload exploded when she discovered someone had stolen the catalytic converter from beneath her car in the middle of the day. Lucy, who was exceedingly sweet and quiet, kicked in three windows and tore off. The company never repaired the windows, and they remain open to trespass.

“I need to get the hell out of here,” complained Eugene Grissom, who was homeless a few years ago and said he’d prefer the streets to the bed bugs and other problems in the apartment. “These people are crooks.”

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.