A contractor hired by the Washington County Housing Authority has inspected more than 1,000 units managed by the agency after the county commissioners raised concerns about the living conditions in some of the apartments.
REAC Resources LLC of New York began inspecting the units at 15 properties two weeks ago, performing about 100 checks per day and providing the housing authority with reports on each apartment.
That, along with work order surveys filled out by each tenant, will help the agency to make repairs after not being able to inspect the properties during most of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing authority Executive Director Stephen Hall said.
“We were out of business, basically, for a year except for emergencies because of the pandemic,” Hall said.
The housing authority’s board responded to complaints from Commissioners Diana Irey Vaughan and Nick Sherman at their March 24 meeting after county officials walked through several apartments with various maintenance issues earlier this year. The tours of Lincoln Terrace in Washington and Highland Terrace in Donora especially bothered Irey Vaughan, who challenged the housing authority to perform inspections on all 1,010 units before the WCHA board’s April meeting, which was held Wednesday night.
Hall reported during the meeting that REAC had performed 800 inspections as of Wednesday and was expected to finish the remaining ones by this afternoon. Each inspection takes about 10 minutes, he said.
“We turned them loose and they’re getting them done,” Hall said.
The board approved a $25,000 payment to REAC for the inspections, although it was unclear how much repairs may cost once the full report is completed. Hall said they’re comparing the inspection reports with tenant surveys to see what should be fixed immediately and what issues can wait.
“I’m very satisfied these people were very thorough, and I believe they’re going to help us moving forward,” Hall said at the meeting.
Irey Vaughan and Sherman thanked Hall and the authority’s board for responding immediately to the maintenance problems.
“It means a lot that we can come to you with concerns and you respond so well,” Irey Vaughan told the board Wednesday night. “We should be working more closely together, and that’s our goal.”
Hall said Thursday that he is pleased with how the authority responded to the complaints from county officials.
“I think we did very well,” Hall said. “Whether it’s from our political community or from our tenants or the public at large, if somebody suggests that the housing authority has an issue, we work to resolve an issue. I don’t take that as a negative. I take it as something where we have an opportunity to improve our operations.”
Hall said the pandemic handicapped not only the authority’s ability to perform regular maintenance, but also prevented the federal Housing and Urban Development from doing its annual inspection of the units. He said the authority’s maintenance teams typically work as a crew, but had to work separately due to the coronavirus. In some cases, tenants requested that workers not come into their apartments.
But now, the “vast majority” of the authority’s workers are fully vaccinated against the virus, which will allow them to return to making repairs when needed, Hall said.
Residents who are still concerned about the virus had the option of leaving their apartments while the contractors performed inspections.
“I feel much safer than I did a month ago about our employees going into apartments without contracting the disease,” he said.
Hall said they’re now working with the tenants to educate them on how to make service requests if there are problems. He was unsure what the total cost would be for overall repairs from the recent inspections.
“Our people sometimes don’t know how to address problems,” Hall said. “We’re going to spend whatever it takes to make our units deficiency-free. If we have to use our reserves, that’s what we’ll have to do.”