Savannah Gardens opened its first units in November after five years of work to demolish and replace the former Strathmore Estates, a crumbling and privately owned low-income housing complex from the World War II era. Touted by city leaders for its mix of subsidized and market-rate housing, Savannah Gardens is slated to have 330 apartments and 120 single-family homes when it’s completed in 2014. Its total estimated cost is $100 million.
Asia Jones and her four children lived in apartment 611 for barely six months before they were forced to leave, she says, because of poor conditions that threatened her family’s health. In mid-August, she said, her 6-year-old son complained his bedroom carpet was getting wet during a downpour outside. Jones said she pulled up the carpet to find water pooling on the floor underneath.
“It never stopped,” Jones said. “It was like a lake.”
Workers later found mold behind the sheetrock in her apartment, Jones said, and within two weeks her family had to go to the hospital with respiratory problems, racking up $1,500 in medical bills.
Jones’ apartment was one of at least 12 units cited for problems in a memo by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney sent last week to Savannah’s mayor and City Council. The memo said problems found at the apartments included water intrusion, mold and mildew, leaking air conditioners, plumbing and a defective ice maker.
Small-Toney told city officials that one issue is that the new apartments were built to energy-efficient guidelines that keep heated or cooled air indoors from seeping outside. That can promote mold growth if air conditioners aren’t kept running during the humid summer months, she said.
Alderman John Hall, whose City Council district includes Savannah Gardens, said he’s concerned more mold problems will be found by environmental inspectors being dispatched to the housing development.
“For the children and the people in those units, it’s going to be a very, very bad health issue,” he said. “They’re having breathing problems.”
Savannah Gardens is being built by Atlanta-based developer Mercy Housing Southeast. Its president, Charice Heywood, said he’s aware of problems in six or seven apartment units and all are being fixed.
Jones has moved out of Savannah Gardens and hired an attorney, Alan S. Lowe, who says her complaints are “the tip of the iceberg.”
Heywood says the developer offered Jones an apartment in another housing development or to put her family up in a hotel. He says she declined both offers.