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FOX 8 Defenders: Residents complain of unsafe living conditions at The Willows

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT|Updated: May. 25, 2022 at 1:30 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Years of neglect, near-nightly shootings, and overwhelming filth. That’s what some terrified New Orleans East neighbors say they’ve been dealing with at their apartment complex and it’s who owns the complex that may surprise you.

Inside Caroline Bailey’s bedroom, water drips from the ceiling. A white tarp, sagging from the weight it holds, covers a hole.

Bailey explains, “I’m constantly calling them, emailing them and they’re not doing anything.”

She continues, “They said they would put this up temporarily and they were coming back to fix it and it’s been weeks and a Sunday.”

Bailey says it’s been like this for years. In her other bedroom she uses tape to patch up cracks in the ceiling, it looks like it could cave at any moment. Watermarks stain the walls downstairs from where it leaks. Bailey sleeps on a couch, sweltering as her A.C. is broken. The stress, finally getting to her as she says we’re the first ones to really listen to her problems.

“I tell them this all the time I said this is not fair. This is not fair, no one has to live like this. And they tell me, oh we’re going to get someone and then they stop answering the phone,” Bailey commented.

This is The Willows apartment complex in New Orleans East. A few doors down lives Cierra Dobard and her family. The former Delgado professor says she’s at her wit’s end. She and her husband believe mold grows in their living room.

“We complained to the office several times, I talked to the owner, I talked to management and I told them we’ve been having all kinds of issues, we’ve been having cold-like symptoms and he’s just not doing anything about it,” Dobard said.

In their bedroom, they say the wall is sinking in. And outside, Dobard says the complex is home to almost nightly shootings.

“Around 8:00 we do not go outside period,” Dobard said.

She says she’s complained to Willows management and the NOPD about the lack of security.

“We don’t even stay downstairs, we go upstairs because we don’t want to be by the windows, we even put furniture near the windows because we’re afraid of gunshots coming through,” Dobard explained.

City records show The Willows is owned by GMF-Preservation of Affordability Corp, based out of Cordova, Tennessee. GMF stands for Global Ministries Foundation. The website Charity Navigator lists Global Ministries as a 501 c 3, a non-profit. Its description is, “To bring together and strengthen the efforts of individuals and churches to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ and to minister to those in need.” Because it’s a charity, the New Orleans city assessor’s website shows the property is tax-exempt. A regional property manager we met on site tells us she works for PAC Housing Group, which oversees The Willows. Robin Williams, the regional property manager, wouldn’t give us a phone number or a name for anyone to contact at Global Ministries for this story. What we were able to find, is the website for PAC Housing Group, which lists Dr. Richard Hamlet, the CEO, and an ordained minister. The website says Hamlet is the founder of Ministry Outreach Foundation, an international faith-based relief, and development agency. It touts his experience overseeing affordable housing units. This website shows The Willows as part of the group’s portfolio. When a representative for Hamlet reached out to us, we asked for an on-camera interview with him. We were told that wasn’t going to happen. Both Cierra Dobard and Caroline Bailey say they’ve spoken directly with Hamlet, who they say visited the property just this spring.

Dobard says, “I spoke with Global Ministries, I spoke with the owner, we told him about the crime situation, we told him about the mold situation, he knows all about the situation, that we’re dealing with in this complex.”

Caroline Bailey tells us she spoke to Hamlet on April 14th of this year and that he saw pictures of the hole in her ceiling. Yet, she says, nothing has been done.

We asked Robin Williams to walk with us through Bailey and Dobard’s homes to see first-hand what they’re living with. She agreed, but wouldn’t agree to an on-camera interview. She took notes and sent an A.C. repairman to Bailey’s house to get her unit fixed again. But beyond that, a week later, nothing else has changed. She acknowledged the roof on the building needs to be replaced and says a bid has just gone out to a contractor to have it done. But it could take months. Williams also says she offered to move Bailey to another unit but Bailey refused to say it was impractical for her to move. But both Dobard and Bailey say they expected more from a religious organization.

“I just don’t understand why would you want your property to just be trashy and not livable and deplorable?” Dobard questioned.

As for why they haven’t just left The Willows?

Dobard explains, “We’re currently trying to look for other places to live but the rent is skyrocketed everywhere. The prices are astronomical.”

So this young family feels stuck. The Willows, with its green and unsecured swimming pool, mounds of trash, and living conditions, is a far cry from the pictures advertising it online. Pictures that these residents say, don’t expose the whole truth about what’s going on here.

Today, we received a statement from the Pac Housing Group which reads:

“Like all of the homes, schools, businesses and critical infrastructure across southern Louisiana that were devastated in the Fall by Hurricane Ida, the persisting lack of labor and building materials are dramatically impacting the final stages of recovery in the region as well as the final work to complete restoration of our complex. With two-thirds of complex restoration done, we are competing daily within the region for licensed roofing, electrical, plumbing and moisture remediation professionals as well as for quality materials, and while we anticipate that completion of our final phase of restoration is less 90 days away, we understand the frustrations that the shortages, delays and increased spring rains are causing everyone still impacted by Ida.” - Chastity Blackburn, PAC Housing Group

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