Macon seniors offered ‘outpouring of help’ after complaints of bed bugs, broken air conditioners

A heatwave hit Macon but there was little respite for some seniors trying to stay cool inside Vineville Christian Towers without working air conditioning.

The broken cooling systems in some apartments and throughout the common areas was tougher to deal with for older residents with medical conditions living in the affordable housing complex for seniors.

But that isn’t the only problem at the 15-story tower that was built in 1972, says Patricia Peurifoy , president of the resident council.

The 68-year-old said her apartment was one of the units infested with bed bugs and there is some concern about what appears to be mold growing on parts of the building.

“A few weeks back ago when it was 100 degrees, we were having people’s air conditioners go out, and some of them were having to live like three days with a box fan and some of them are on oxygen,” Peurifoy said. “And then the air conditioner in the hall wasn’t working either.”

Peurifoy said she and other residents have witnessed what appeared to be suspicious behavior around the complex. When the property was under the previous management company, a security guard patrolled the premises nightly until the management office re-opened the next morning, she added.

There were about 30 residents who were fed up enough to sign a petition and send it to corporate headquarters in March.

Several of them also spoke out at Tuesday’s Macon-Bibb County Commission meeting.

Macon resident Seth Clark visited the apartment building Wednesday and took photos around the complex. One of the pictures shows Peurifoy standing next to out-of-work air conditioners piled near the back door. Others show some type of black material inside air conditioners and on concrete block walls inside the stairwell.

“Our neighbors have raised their voices and asked for help,” he wrote in an email.

Peurifoy said she’s been taken aback by the level of support government leaders and other residents are now showing for the people living in Vineville Christian Towers.

She said one Macon man volunteered to help with security; Commissioner Al Tillman invited the seniors to talk to the commissioners; Mayor Robert Reichert asked for a list of concerns so the county could help them report issues; and the head of the local National Action Network chapter offered to help.

“The outpouring of help that people offered had me in tears,” Peurifoy said. “There were so many people that were concerned about what was going on.”

Company’s response

Vineville Christian Towers’ current management company is Christian Church Homes, a nonprofit based out of California.

The company released a statement this week saying the safety of tenants is its main concern and steps have been taken to address the problems.

“Now learning about the severity of the situation, we are hiring after-hours security as well as working with local law enforcement to increase the number of patrols in the area,” the statement said.

The company has invested $4 million into the property, the statement said, but about $10 million would be needed for a full rehab, which is beyond the company’s financial ability.

Also, it said roughly $100,000 has been spent on pest control, but the spread of bed bugs worsened because some residents are not following instructions like getting rid of personal items that were infested.

Christian Church Homes also is asking residents to run fans in areas like bathrooms to mitigate or prevent the buildup of what they say is “mildew or organic growth.”

The company said it typically finds replacement air-conditioning units as quickly as possible whenever one is broken in an apartment, and a temporary unit is being used for common areas. It took a few days to find the temporary unit because they’re in high-demand in summers, the statement said.

That temporary air conditioning unit, however, had stopped working Thursday afternoon, Peurifoy said.

“The (company’s) letter got me upset,” she said. “They have never told us any of that information about using fans to try to keep mold down or anything. We did have a bed bug class, but everybody in the building didn’t come to it.

Mike Austin, CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Housing Authority, said there are some people who have Section 8 vouchers that live in the building.

There haven’t been any major issues reported to them by residents, and he said his staff visits every so often to check units.

That doesn’t mean other residents haven’t had problems, Austin added.