Apartment complex still sits vacant

Vandals have broken into the former 72-unit Osprey Pointe Apartment complex off Baker Hospital Blvd. and destroyed the interior of the buildings. The complex has been sitting vacant since North Charleston declared it uninhabitable in 2007. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) 9/26/13

A 72-unit apartment complex in North Charleston that was built for senior citizens with the help of U.S. taxpayers has been sitting vacant and going to ruin for six years.

City officials say they were powerless to order the repair or demolition of the Osprey Pointe complex on Baker Hospital Boulevard, between Interstate 26 and the Ashley River, before the adoption of new enforcement powers this year. The city has not moved to exercise those new powers, however, aimed at addressing commercial buildings in disrepair.

“Any vacant or abandoned building in our community is a problem,” said Councilman Michael Brown, who represents the city’s south end.

“Yes, it has been vacant for six years,” he said. “There’s very little I can tell you on that.”

In 2007, the city discovered that the 7-year-old complex had foundation problems, and declared both multi-unit buildings unfit for habitation. Many of the elderly residents had just 15 days to move.

In the time since, vandals and thieves have had their way with the buildings, in some cases destroying interior walls and stripping out wiring and other metal that can be sold as scrap.

Osprey Pointe does have neighbors, but few other people would have a reason to see or think about the complex, unless they spot it while passing by on the interstate.

The apartments were built near the site where Baker Hospital once stood, accessible by a single road that winds underneath the elevated interstate from an industrial section of North Charleston near the Lowcountry Food Bank.

Another taxpayer-supported apartment complex sits nearby, along with a nursing home and a mental health facility. The rest of the surrounding land is vacant, and developers are currently trying to have the land zoned for heavy and light industry, saying that industrial contamination makes the land unsuitable for other uses.

Next door to the empty Osprey Pointe buildings, 106 families live in another apartment complex called Osprey Place. A playground for the children at Osprey Place is just a stone’s throw from the vacant complex.

“It’s definitely a problem,” said Osprey Place manager Lana Wilder. “I think it needs to be torn down.”

Mayor Keith Summey agrees. He said the city had previously hoped the building could be repaired.

“They had a plan, but it never happened,” said the mayor.

The city inspects the building from time to time, but broken windows and unsecured doors were found on a recent visit by The Post and Courier.

The apartment complex is controlled by Alliant Real Estate Investors of Woodland Hills, Calif., a unit of The Alliant Company. Alliant is a national finance and investment firm with more than $9 billion in assets under management, according to the company’s website.

Repeated phone calls to Alliant from Sept. 20 to Sept. 27 were directed to an executive’s voice mail and were not returned.

Osprey Pointe was built, as many privately owned lower-income apartment complexes are, using federal tax credits approved by the state. Developers sell the tax credits to investors, at discounts to their value, and thereby raise money for construction — about $2 million in tax credits in the case of Osprey Pointe.

“When they were condemned we put them in permanent non-compliant status and notified the IRS,” said Clayton Ingram, spokesman for the S.C. State Housing and Finance Authority, which awarded the tax credits. “In those situations the IRS would usually go to full recapture on the tax credits, but they don’t tell us so we don’t know.”

Regional Internal Revenue Service spokesman Mark Green said the IRS can’t discuss specific tax cases.

In cases where tax credits are reduced or revoked, the IRS would generally go back to the company that was awarded the credits, and the company would then be responsible for repaying the government, through adjusted or amended tax filings.

As for the buildings, most cities have regulations that allow them to order a building owner to repair or demolish an uninhabitable structure, according to Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate for the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

“If the city can’t get any satisfaction from the owner, then they can use taxpayer funds to take care of the problem,” Slatton said. However, he said demolition costs can easily exceed the value of a property, so cities can’t count on recouping their expenses.

North Charleston just changed its municipal code in April to allow the city to declare a commercial building a public nuisance and schedule a hearing before the Public Safety and Housing Committee, which could lead to a demand to repair or demolish the structure.

“At this point, it’s going to need to be torn down,” Summey said.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 .