Volunteers, city disagree about condition of apartments
Little in the way of luxury is to be found on Luxury Lane.
"My husband says it's the most ironically named street in America," commented Rebecca Rutledge, a volunteer at Peace United Methodist Church on Ferris Road who teaches English to immigrants and refugees.
Luxury Lane is a private street within the Summit Park Apartments. The complex was the scene of a fire Aug. 20 that left dozens of families, many of them Nepali refugees from Bhutan, homeless.
No injuries were reported in the fire, which started in a fenced-in storage area filled with old furniture next to the apartment building at 4349 Walford St. Investigators say it was arson.
The apartments off Le Marie Court south of Morse Road were the subject of a meeting last week during which volunteers -- including Rutledge, Northland area clergy members and social workers discussed what they say are deplorable conditions there.
However, Columbus Code Enforcement Administrator Dana Rose and Maria Babb, code enforcement supervisor for the city, indicated they believe those claims are exaggerated.
"A lot of it is cosmetic things," Babb said. "It's not as atrocious as they're making it sound. I've been in some bad apartments, and it's really not that bad."
None of the code issues brought to the attention of the management at Summit Park Apartments are past due, Babb said last week.
"If anything, they're getting done early," she added.
They're not getting done at all, according to Rutledge, speaking during the gathering at Peace United Methodist, which was chaired by the Rev. Gregory H. Herndon of Epworth United Methodist Church on Karl Road.
Rutledge handed around photographs of rusted-through metal steps, broken windows, leaking toilets and a darkened stairwell down which a refugee woman, carrying her baby, fell one morning while rushing to get to her job, Rutledge said.
The child wasn't hurt, but the mother suffered three broken bones in her leg and a fractured ankle during the fall months ago, according to Rutledge.
"The stairwell is still not lit at night," she said.
"It is just that deplorable," Herndon said of what he observed on a tour of the complex. "It sickened me, brought tears to my eyes.
"My dog shouldn't have to live under those conditions."
Summit Park consists of 19 buildings containing 270 apartments, and Rutledge said almost all are infested with bedbugs and cockroaches.
"This has only come up within the last few months, these complaints," Babb said.
"We try to make people realize that their first call should be to the management," Rose said.
A message seeking a response to the group's accusations was left at the management office of Summit Park Apartments on Nov. 15 at 11:45 a.m. It had not been returned by deadline.
Also on hand at last week's gathering was Ghanshyam Luitel, a Nepali refugee who lived in Summit Park for 13 months before moving to another nearby complex, just prior to the fire that destroyed the building in which he had resided.
"Our people want to live together," he told the group. "They're clinging to each other for mutual support. For those reasons, they don't dare to move out of such places."
Rutledge heaped praise on the Nepali refugees she has met.
"We're all going to be fortunate that they're here," she said.
"These people are amazing people; they need a friend," said Mohamed Mohamed, career consultant at Jewish Family Services.
"It's important to improve this situation," said the Rev. Kwesi Gyimah of the Columbus African Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Two members of City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr.'s staff, executive assistant Mark K. Rutkus and Assistant City Attorney Jaiza N. Page, were on hand as observers at last week's meeting.
Members of the group discussed the possibility of a "rent strike," perhaps having tenants put their rental payments into escrow with assistance from a volunteer attorney.
Joyce Bourgault, chairwoman of the Northland Alliance, said she would reach out to members of Columbus City Council on behalf of Summit Park's residents, while others agreed to work on contacting the owner of the complex and trying to obtain volunteer legal assistance.
The group agreed to assemble again at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, at Peace United Methodist Church, 2169 Ferris Road.