FOX 8 Defenders: Child begs for help at Bellemont apartments
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - One state lawmaker plans to file a proposal to pull the tax-exempt status of property owners who run non-profits but who lawmakers say are slumlords.
The idea for the bill came after our FOX 8 Defenders investigations exposed what residents said were deplorable living conditions at apartments owned by a religious non-profit. Now, one group hits the pavement trying to help tenants who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
14-year-old Niyasia Clay says she’s sick a lot.
“I’ve missed a lot of days of school, I’m in danger of failing because of this. I’m too sick to go,” Niyasia Clay said.
Pointing to her walls and the back of the front door, her mom says this affects Niyasia and her younger siblings inside their Metairie apartment at The Bellemont.
Niya Clay comments, “Look at that, that’s mold. It be soaking wet everywhere, it’s mold.”
When asked what symptoms she’s experienced, Niyasia Clay comments, “My eyes, they get big, puffy, my nose, sometimes I can’t get up sometimes, cough all the time.”
Three weeks ago, the FOX 8 Defenders received an email from Niyasia begging us to call her. The email said, “I am a 14-year-old girl. I have four siblings and we live in The Bellemont apartment homes. We need help please because if not the mold will kill my siblings.”
We’ve heard similar stories in the nine months since we first reported on the apartments in the metro area owned by Global Ministries Foundation and GMF-Preservation of Affordability Corporation, a religious non-profit based out of Tennessee. The non-profit pay nothing in property taxes.
In November last year, Haley Hall showed us her apartment at The Bellemont, commenting, “Mold right here. Mold throughout my hallway, I have really bad termites in my bedroom.”
FOX 8 DEFENDERS
In May of 2022, Cierra Dobard showed off her home and what she believed was mold growing, saying, “It’s probably spread all throughout inside the wall but see it right here at the end of the walls.”
And now, this email, from a 14-year-old who felt she had no other place to turn.
We asked Niyasia why she reached out to FOX 8.
She says, “Because my sisters are getting sick, my momma, she’s doing a lot but there’s not much she can do, all of this it’s kind of a mess for five kids to live in.”
“I’m so proud of her because I had a lot going on, I was at my wit’s end, I was tired, I was drained,” Niya Clay said.
Niya tells us she had no idea Niyasia found our email address online and contacted FOX 8.
“My mom showed me a couple of videos and I was like that’s the same thing we got going on here,” Niyasia Clay explained.
She saw our other reports on The Willows in New Orleans East and Parc Fontaine in Algiers, both owned by GMF. She decided to take action to protect her family.
“At least y’all came, I’m glad y’all did because people need to see this. Something needs to happen,” Niyasia Clay said.
Kim Diaz says she’s seen first-hand the types of conditions people at The Bellemont deal with.
“Each time I’m surprised to hear everything that’s happening here, it’s just like you can’t believe that these are conditions that people are living under,” Diaz stated.
Diaz works with the New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly and the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative. She spends her days handing out flyers, and educating people at The Bellmont and other apartment complexes across the area, about their rights.
Diaz explains, “I’m here and I’m doing this and I’m young but I’m trying to take as many resources as I can to do this.”
She continues, “I grew up nearby actually, I’m also from Jefferson Parish and I also used to be in a very bad situation where I had black mold and I ended up couch surfing and I didn’t want anybody else to ever be in that situation ever again.”
Diaz says she’s seen tenants, so fed up with their living conditions, they stop paying rent, which could land them in eviction court.
“I know most of the time, folks from Bellemont don’t know that and other areas in the complexes here, don’t know that if you do go to eviction court, there is a lawyer there and usually there’s a higher chance you can walk away from that with a better solution,” Diaz said.
FOX 8 DEFENDERS CONTINUING COVERAGE
“There are some laws that say you are entitled to live in a habitable home, that’s codified in Louisiana law that you should have a home where you can peacefully enjoy the home where its habitable and there are a few ways that you can enforce that but unfortunately a lot of those remedies require a lot of resources as well,” said Tania Murillo.
Murillo is an attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services which provides free legal aid to low-income people. She frequently encounters tenants at The Bellemont, Parc Fontaine and The Willows, reaching out for help.
Our reports have documented code enforcement violations at The Willows, Parc Fontaine, and The Bellemont. Just a few years ago, a Jefferson Parish judge ordered GFM to pay $150,000 to keep the property after years of unpaid fines.
For Niya Clay, five months living at The Bellemont is enough.
She explains, “One day my oldest was taking a shower, it burnt the skin off of her arm when I tell them, nothing happens.”
She tells us the water switches from cold to scalding hot in seconds; that’s how her daughter’s arm was allegedly burned.
Now, she’s trying to find another place to go. A few days before our interview, she moved her children to stay with a relative.
“It’s not safe for them to even be in here,” Clay stated.
Niyasia is happy to go but feels for the others still living at The Bellemont.
When asked what she’d like to see happen at The Bellemont, Niyasia Clay responds, “A change, if anything, people actually happy about where they live. People need to be proud of their homes, people want to be here, people want to show off their homes but they can’t if they look like this.”
The New Orleans Renters Rights Assembly will host a meeting for Bellemont residents at St. Philip Neri church in Metairie on Monday night. Tania Murillo and another Southeast Louisiana Legal Services attorney will provide free legal aid from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Richard Hamlet, the CEO of the religious non-profit, commented on this story, saying, “Our office is not aware of this tenant complaint , as no one has come into the site office to report an issue, which is protocol. Once a work order is prepared upon confirmation of any maintenance issue, our team at Bellemont is expeditious in scheduling the repair and responding timely. Anonymous reporting to the media from residents is counterproductive. This property is near full occupancy now on account of the demand for our quality affordable housing units and rents well below market rate developers in the submarket. We have invested over five million dollars the past three years in the renovation and improvement of the property’s interior and exterior components.”
The property manager, Nicole Rogers, says anytime someone comes into the office with an issue, she tries to handle it as soon as possible.
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