AG joins probe into Farmington housing complex

Apple Ridge Apartments receives high marks in 2014 federal inspection

Steve Garrison
Linda Blakesley checks her mail in October at the Apple Ridge Apartments in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General has agreed to assist U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, in his investigation into living conditions at the taxpayer-subsidized Apple Ridge Apartments in Farmington.

Attorney General Hector Balderas stated in an Oct. 29 letter to Luján's office that staff from the civil and criminal divisions will review the supporting documents provided by Luján and determine what assistance can be provided to investigate claims of neighborhood crime, dilapidated buildings and mismanagement at the apartment complex.

Luján had requested the attorney general's assistance on Oct. 20.

James Hallinan, spokesman for the AG's office, said he could not comment until staff have completed a review of statutes.

"We will update the public when this process is complete," Hallinan said.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will visit Apple Ridge Apartments in December for a management review to ensure the complex is in compliance with federal requirements.

Apple Ridge Apartments received favorable ratings when it was inspected by HUD officials in November 2014, according to records obtained by The Daily Times. And Apple Ridge officials say most tenants are happy with their living situations.

The attorney general's letter was provided to The Daily Times Thursday by Farmington City Councilor Mary Fischer. She said she believed progress was being made to improve conditions at the 80-unit apartment complex at 1600 Cliffside Drive.

"We are ever hopeful that something will change," Fischer said. "It is always astounding to me how the management and ownership companies refuse to acknowledge the problem. It's a case of denial."

Christine Shipley, vice president of operations for Dunlap & Magee, said in an email Friday that her company remains "committed to exceptional property management through open communication and continued self improvement."

"Management will continue to meet monthly and work with our residents, tenants association, community watch group and site based organizations to be mindful of each resident's presence without encroaching on the right to unassisted living."

Several tenants have made complaints about leaky roofs, black mold and high crime rates at the complex. They further claim those concerns have been ignored by the property owner, YES Housing Inc., and the management company.

On Sept. 29, Farmington police discovered the body of a 64-year-old tenant at the apartment complex. Police determined the tenant's death appeared to have gone unnoticed by management for approximately two weeks, which prompted calls by local and federal lawmakers for an investigation into conditions at the complex.

HUD spokeswoman Patricia Campbell said that during the management review in December, officials will look at the complex's records to ensure management is in compliance with the department's rules and regulations.

Campbell said federal monitors will also look at the general external appearance of Apple Ridge Apartments and review security at the complex, but stated the agency will not perform a formal inspection.

Rose Silva-Smith, vice president of asset management for Yes Housing, said her company will cooperate with HUD's review.

"We are an open book," Silva-Smith said. "We always have been."

The entrance to the Apple Ridge Apartments is pictured on Oct. 9 in Farmington.

Yes Housing is a nonprofit established in 1990 in Albuquerque to provide subsidized housing to poor and disenfranchised families. The company owns properties throughout New Mexico and Arizona.

Silva-Smith said she visited Apple Ridge Apartments on Oct. 21 with Yes Housing Executive Vice President Joe Ortega. She said they spoke with 70 percent of the residents at the apartment complex and inspected individual housing units.

"The vast majority stated they were satisfied with the level of service received by Dunlap & Magee and were complimentary of the manager and their maintenance technician," Silva-Smith said.

According to records obtained by The Daily Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, HUD provided Yes Housing Inc. almost $600,000 in federal funds between November 2014 and November 2015.

The money was used to subsidize rent for the tenants, who are required to be seniors 62 and older or disabled.

HUD officials last inspected Apple Ridge Apartments in November 2014, according to records. The inspectors rated the apartment complex a 92b on a 100-point scale in their report, noting only minor issues, such as inoperable windows, damaged doors and leaking pipes.

A property that scores 59 or below is subject to further investigation and possible enforcement action, according to HUD's website. The letter "b" after the score indicates that non-life threatening health and safety deficiencies were noted at the property, the website states. The letter "c" indicates at least one life-threatening health and safety deficiency was noted at the property.

Campbell confirmed the physical inspection at Apple Ridge Apartments was conducted in accordance with HUD guidelines and said the apartment complex actually scored higher in 2014 than in previous years.

The property received a score of 83c in 2004, an 87b in 2007 and a 91c in 2011, according to Campbell.

Silva-Smith said the high score is indicative of the success of Elizabeth Hicks, the on-site manager at Apple Ridge Apartments.

"I believe it is really reflective of the condition of the property," she said. "The ability of the manager to do her job."

However, Campbell pointed out that HUD officials requested major improvements be made at the property after meeting with local and federal lawmakers in June 2014, several months before the inspection.

Campbell noted that Silva-Smith has visited the property numerous times in the past year and has worked with residents to address their needs.

She said the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Agency took samples from 17 units at Apple Ridge Apartments in May 2015 and found no evidence of mold. She said the mortgage finance agency has received seven complaints about Apple Ridge Apartments since 2011. Six of those complaints were from the same person.

"(The agency) investigated all of them and responded to HUD and the complainant," Campbell said. "If management needed to take action, they did."

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.