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Charleston area officials pledge sweeping changes at Joseph Floyd Manor

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Charleston County council chairmen Elliott Summey looks at mold and damage along the hallway floor at the Joseph Floyd Manor on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

After viewing conditions inside Joseph Floyd Manor, a public housing building for seniors on the upper end of the Charleston peninsula, area officials vowed to make sweeping changes to the ailing structure. 

A week after The Post and Courier first reported about bedbug infestations, rats, cockroaches, drug dealing and other poor or unsafe conditions inside the building run by the Charleston County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, several area lawmakers and other officials toured the building. S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, was joined by Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey, County Councilman Henry Darby, Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds, Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell and several other officials for an up-close look.

While speaking with residents who had gathered in the lobby, Gilliard asked Housing Authority officials, including CEO James Williams, to leave, saying the group wanted to hear residents' opinions without management present.

Summey later squatted in a hallway on the third floor and pulled at wall paneling that had started to peel away. He looked around in disbelief; along the ceiling above, exposed pipes were flecked with what appeared to be mold. 

"They're going to have to tear this down," the chairman said. 

Residents who spoke with The Post and Courier said a combination of lack of building maintenance, as well as residents who either let their apartments get filthy or are too sick to be able to adequately care for themselves, is creating a loop that's fueling the buildup of vermin.

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South Carolina politicians and county officials tour the hallways at Joseph Floyd Manor on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Summey, speaking in the building's lobby later Monday afternoon, said it was the first time he'd been in the building and the conditions made him sick.

County Council does not have direct oversight of the Housing Authority, which owns Floyd Manor and other public housing buildings nearby, he said. 

But Summey said he's dedicated to ensuring the agency gets all the funding it needs to provide a good environment for its residents. 

"Money's not a problem," he said. "We should have a new building, a wide building with the same number of units. Renovating this building, you might as well ride across the Cooper River Bridge with a trunk full of money and the trunk open. It ain't gonna work."

The chairman pledged to get residents into a hotel in the near future so that deep, intensive pest control can be done on the 12-story building. 

Summey also said he will do what he can to ensure that rent stays low in any new building that goes up to house residents of Floyd Manor. 

A resident brought up some concerns that new affordable housing in the city can have monthly rents of as much as $800 or $900 per month, far more than anyone in the high-rise building can afford. 

"It needs to stay the way it is now," Summey said. "We ain't accomplishing nothing if you can't afford to come back. I've been on County Council 12 years. This might be the maddest I've been in 12 years. I've got seven months left and I can promise you this: We're gonna have a resolution to this before I'm gone." 

Williams, the authority's CEO, said he's committed to turning conditions in Floyd Manor around and added he's worked hard in the nearly three years he's been in the position to make improvements. 

But not all improvements to the building are readily apparent. 

In a Post and Courier article that ran earlier this month, Williams said he's been hampered by severe budgetary constraints and that it was going to take time to turn around the neglect left by predecessors. 

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At the beginning of Monday afternoon's tour of the structure, Williams took officials around the building and started explaining some of the chronic issues, such as leaks in the roof and a basement that required several hundred thousand dollars to fix. 

At the same time, Williams said he's done his best to set aside money for pest abatement, but sometimes issues impacting the entire building have had to take precedence over issues in individual units. 

"There's nothing I'm trying to hide," Williams said, speaking with The Post and Courier after the tour. "We presented what that building really is. If I had my way, we'd do a whole lot of things, but we've had plenty of times where we knew we were going to be short."

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S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard (left) and Charles Tyler, the president of the Tri-County Charleston National Action Network look inside a vacant room at the Joseph Floyd Manor on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

He's wanted to get every unit in the building painted, Williams said, citing one example. But when the urgent need for roof repairs came up he had to shift money toward that project. 

The housing authority has new contracts in place for pest abatement, Williams said. A company has been hired to do proactive rat trapping over the next year. A different firm has been hired to rid units of bedbugs. 

County housing officials also have spoken with Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg about getting help from police to deal with drug dealers who prey on the building's elderly residents. 

"Is it ideal? By no means, but we're constantly pushing ahead," Williams said. 

Gilliard said he's looking forward to helping residents improve their living conditions and urged everyone who lives at Floyd Manor to be proactive by communicating with him, county housing officials and others.

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S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard along with several other officials tour the grounds and speak with residents about living conditions at Joseph Floyd Manor on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

In a statement put out by his office, Gilliard pledged to implement a plan immediately to address vermin infestations and issues raised by residents, help the building's neighborhood association improve communication between residents and management and work with police to beef up patrols and other crime-prevention measures. 

Gilliard said he's also arranged for the Medical University of South Carolina to offer coronavirus testing for any building resident who needs that service. 

In the long term, he said he hopes to form a Joseph Floyd Manor Improvement Committee that will develop a plan and raise funds "for the complete renovation and upgrade of (the building) and other Housing Authority properties in need of repair and upgrades." 

Resident Vernon Wright, who has lived at the building for nearly 22 years, said he's hopeful officials will take real action. 

In the past, elected officials have come by and pledged to help change conditions, and while some progress was made for brief periods, conditions would eventually deteriorate. 

But Monday's meeting seemed different, Wright said. 

The longtime Floyd Manor resident volunteered to help organize his neighbors and be a liaison between them and elected officials during short-term repairs and any long-term solutions down the road. 

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S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard (left) and Charleston County council chairmen Elliott Summey speak with resident Vernon Wright at Joseph Floyd Manor on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

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