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‘I want people to be treated properly’: Community activists calling for accountability, changes in Petersburg hotels and motels

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 6:35 PM EST
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PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - In Petersburg, the NAACP wants to ensure people have safe and sanitary places to live. With many families living in extended stay hotels and motels, the organization says it has gotten complaints and concerns about living conditions.

“In the Petersburg NAACP we believe in the principle based on the African philosophy of ubuntu,” said Lafayette Jefferson. “I cannot be fully human unless I recognize the full humanity of others what they are doing to these people is not acknowledging their humanity. People shouldn’t have to call the NAACP for decent housing.”

Jefferson says their chapter of the NAACP was contacted in September after a man living at The Flagship Inn on South Crater Road, fell through the floor of his room. Jefferson wrote the following in a letter to the City of Petersburg manager:

“Saturday, September 18, 2021, I was contacted by a resident of the Flagship Inn Located at 815 S Crater Rd, Petersburg, VA 23803. I conducted a site visit the same day and was told a story about a gentleman who fell through a rotted floor and hit his head. When the carpet and sub-floor were removed, there was standing water in the crawlspace (unit 101). I was shown pictures of black mold painted over, shown images of bloodstains that management had instructed hotel workers to pour bleach on, stating that “it’ll be ok.” Rooms with soft spots on floors are most likely due to the standing water in the crawlspace that contributes to the stagnant smell in most of the rooms. Toilets on compromised sub-floors that are about to fall through floors being rented.”

These conditions are not acceptable nor tolerable living conditions for anyone. The city, state, and national codes are used to establish a baseline standard for safe and healthy living. The Department of Code Compliance, the Fire Department, the Department of Health, and the city administration should not be complacent with the condition that these people are enduring. The citizens of Petersburg will certainly not accept these conditions.

The board of the Petersburg NAACP is looking for a written response no later than Thursday, September 23, 2021, that focuses on:

1. Remediation efforts for the code compliance, health, and fire & safety issues at the Flagship Inn.

2. Date of an outreach informing residents at Flagship Inn of assistance and resources available to assess the housing and living needs of the residents of Flagship Inn.

3. City of Petersburg to secure a Memorandum of Understanding from the ownership of the Flagship Inn that covers: a. For residents required to move, they shall be moved into an acceptable unit within the Flagship Inn. b. In cases of suitable units within Flagship Inn not being secured, owners will cover the cost of the move and remaining prepaid rent. c. Lock rent at current rates until all units are compliant.

4. Inspection date of all units at the flagship Inn by Code Compliance, Health Department, and Fire & Safety.

5. Plan to ensure that citizens residing in other hotels in Petersburg are not enduring the same neglect”

Jefferson says the Flagship Inn is not the only motel of concern in the city. Laverle Talley, Founder of the non-profit, Lending Helping Hands, says there are at least five hotels and motels of concern in Petersburg.

“They are being exploited, they cannot go anywhere else,” said Talley.

Talley says she often helps families living in the King Motel on E. Wythe Street, supplying them with food and toiletries.

“They are being given one roll of toilet paper a week regardless how many people are in the room I have been supplying toilet paper to people who are paying anywhere from $225 to $265 a week,” she explained. “There are bullet holes in the doors, there are rats, there are roaches, it is filthy.”

The On Your Side Investigators called and went to both motels named, the King Motel and Flagship Inn. Management at the Flagship Inn reports there are changes happening on the property, and also says there is new management in place. At the King Motel, a manager reports there is a staff member who cleans the property daily.

“When they bring lots of stuff, roaches can come, we give supplies,” said the manager at the King Motel. “We have no problem.”

Petersburg business owner Rosalind Stith is joining the voices calling on hotel and motel owners to make sure their properties are up to par.

“I believe that if the owners were to do better it would make the area better,” said Stith. “I have watched children run in and out of the [King Motel], I have watched kids catch the bus. These kids and their parents are in a bad situation and they need help bad.”

While Talley continues to help families living in hotels and motels, she wants the owners to make changes.

“I want the hotel owners to realize we are not just going to allow you to get money in your pocket and you treat people any kind of way in these conditions, I am sure at the end of the night they are not living in these types of conditions,” explained Talley.

In response to the letter sent by the Petersburg NAACP to the City Manager, Jeremy Tennant wrote:

“Also, due to the current use of motels and hotels as “extended stays” staff will look into ensuring that the citizens that are residing in the City’s hotels and motels are not living in deplorable conditions.

On September 20th, Neighborhood Services staff conducted a site visit to the Flagstaff Inn around 2:30 pm to inspect room 102.

Upon initial view, staff noticed a two-person crew outside a first-floor room with lumber and power tools. Staff then circled the property to visually assess the exterior condition of the buildings and their grounds. Overall, the property appeared to be well kept and principally free of litter. Staff first made contact with the hotel’s front desk receptionist. After introductions, staff asked if she was aware of the reported issues, she stated that she was, and the repairs were already underway.

The front desk receptionist mentioned the affected resident had been temporally relocated to an empty room during the repairs. The hotel receptionist agreed to escort staff to room 102 to review the issues firsthand and meet with the property’s two handymen. The handymen showed us inside. The carpet was rolled back, exposing two sheets of new subfloor that had yet to be appropriately secured to the floor joists. We noted the existing joists showed signs of water damage, but they did not appear to be unstable after walking across them. When asked about additional supports, the handymen stated that the lumber outside would be used to reinforce the existing joists, and new 4x8 plyboards would also be installed. 2 When asked the cause of the damage, the handymen stated that the AC unit was not properly leveled, and instead of draining outside, it leaked inside the room. We were assured when the AC is reinstalled, it will drain in the correct direction. Staff also noticed several inches of still water in the basement below.

There was no odor that is typically associated with stagnant water, or that could indicate organic growth was present. Staff asked that before the floor was fully repaired and closed in, they pump the water out and allow us to come back for an inspection. The hotel receptionist and the handymen both agreed to this. Staff also inspected the smoke alarm and found it to be in working condition. Staff will ensure that the room is free of other life and safety hazards during our final inspection. Staff left a card with the hotel receptionist and departed the Flagship Inn around 3 pm.”

Tennant also said the City of Petersburg would reinstate the Abatement, Compliance, and Enforcement (ACE) Team. The ACE Team is made up of the Police Department, Planning and Community Development Department, Neighborhood Services, VA Department of Health, Fiscal Management, Community Corrections, Commissioner of Revenue, Social Services, City Attorney’s Office, Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, Probation and Parole, Virginia ABC Board and Redevelopment Housing,

“Things are happening, but that is right now with pressure--this should have been something we feel the city should have picked up on a long time ago,” said Jefferson.

The City of Petersburg tells NBC 12 it is understaffed, but there have been on going meetings about the ACE Team.

“The plan is for the ACE Team to be re-established by 2nd quarter, 2022. Right now, all of the departments involved with the ACE Team are understaffed. That has slowed the process,” a city spokesperson explained.

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