Proposed rent increase at Essex Village upsets Henrico leaders

Proposed rent increase at Essex Village upsets Henrico leaders

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Once called "the worst of the worst in Henrico County," leaders say they're upset over a possible rent increase at Essex Village.

According to a letter sent to county leaders, Maggie Lena Walker Apartments LLC, the "Proposed Owner" of the project, submitted a request for approval for an increase in rent. It says it was submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The letter is signed by the prospective buyer of the property, Ernst Valery with EVI Equity whose website says is based out of Baltimore, MD.

The buyer wants to jack up prices on a place renters say is infested with roaches and is falling apart. There have been 500 complaints in the last four years.

And because it's a HUD complex, a majority of that proposed hike would come from taxpayers.

People living at HUD complexes receive federal assistance for a percentage of their rent, for some it's the entire cost.

"I can't wrap my head around how HUD is actually paying these kinds of rents," says Henrico County manager John Vithoulkas. "If this is the answer, the answer needs to be there are portable vouchers. We've (county leaders) been trying to set up a meeting with the secretary of HUD. And really, until we have that meeting and an understanding of some of these practices, we're not going to feel like this issue is being addressed."

There are two increases in the proposal, one effective October 23 and another increase upon completion of rehab.

Here's the breakdown:

  • 1 BR – Current Rate: $750, Oct. 23 Rate: $850, Proposed Rent Upon Completion: $1,055
  • 2 BR – Current Rate: $867, Oct. 23 Rate: $1,025, Proposed Rent Upon Completion: $1,190
  • 3 BR – Current Rate: $969, Oct. 23 Rate: $1,220, Proposed Rent Upon Completion: $1,385

Henrico County Deputy Manager Douglas Middleton couldn't believe the news.

"There's something wrong with the system, this kind of thing should not be happening," said Middleton.

Middleton says the proposal was never discussed or brought to the city's attention.

"I don't know if he's pulling a fast one, but I think he should've known better to have done this without at least giving us a heads up," he said.

For months, NBC12 has been investigating the living conditions at the county's largest subsidized housing complex. It includes broken pipes, broken railings, plumbing leaks and infestations.

Essex Village apartments called 'the worst of the worst' in Henrico

The management company, PK Management, has come under fire for its lack of maintenance and letting the complex fall into disrepair.

Most recently, the owners, VA Essex Investors LLC were taken to court by the county for multiple building code violations. The charges were dismissed because management fixed the issues.

The rent hike isn't a done deal. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development still had to approve it.

Congressman Donald McEachin says he was surprised to see the rent increase notice. His full statement:

"I was surprised to see this notice of a rent increase request distributed to the residents, especially since I have yet to see or hear detailed information about the proposed property transfer. I have not seen a specific plan; my understanding is the county has not seen a specific plan. I would like more information about what is happening and where we are in the process. I have been quite clear and emphatic about the importance of improving the living conditions at Essex Village. At the same time, as I have noted, the current owner / operators are paid millions of taxpayers' dollars per year for residents to live in squalor. We cannot repeat the choices that created these problems. Any transfer needs to swiftly improves residents' quality of life, and do so at a just and reasonable cost — not just in the short term, but for as long as taxpayer dollars are being spent. I am eager for more information and for specifics. I have placed calls seeking that information, including to HUD," said Congressman Donald McEachin.

NBC12 reached out to Ernst Valery for comment but has not yet heard back.

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