Westlake Apartments attract mold and county-wide scrutiny

Westlake Apartments attract mold and county-wide scrutiny
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - For one apartment community in Chatham County that followed the advice to evacuate, their return to Savannah was anything but a welcome home.

Westlake Apartments just off I-516 are, to put it mildly, unlivable.  Hurricane Matthew finished off what years of neglect have done to dozens of units.

But what's worse is the attention these residents are getting from the property manager and complex owner.  Tuesday, we followed your elected officials into that complex for a look at what Savannah's Mayor now insists is a crime scene.

The night started in this subsidized housing complex with the sudden appearance of a Salvation Army food truck with warm meals for hurricane victims that could really use the TLC. The power just returned here, but a light was the least of their concerns.

"They've reported standing water," says Alderwoman Carol Bell.  "And some of the conditions in some of the apartments is, it's just uninhabitable."

The councilwoman, mayor and County Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz were here to see for themselves - and did they ever.

Rhonisha Williams invited the city and county into her unit on the first floor. Much of what she owns lining the outdoor corridor leading up to her entrance.

Once inside, the stench of mold and mildew was almost as thick as the air was wet.  More than a foot of water filled this apartment just 24-hours ago.  And there was word from the property manager on how to contain the growing spores.

"She informed us to clean with bleach," said Williams.  "She said to spray it down as much as I could and stay in here."

"So it basically says you can fix this yourself with some bleach," says Chatham County Councilman Yusuf Shabazz.  "What it really saying is that you're on your own.  That's what it is saying."

Courtney Scott lives a few doors down. She'll tell you, Matthew just piled on.

"My refrigerator is broken.  My hot water tank is broken. Like nothing.  And they're off tomorrow for a holiday."

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach explained how he felt walking into this apartment.

"As far as we've come you realized just how depraved the human being can be.  And I think that is the key to the thing. I mean it is amazing what people can do to people in the name of money," DeLoach said.

"We start by applying pressure," says Commissioner Shabazz. "We continue applying pressure on the owners of this apartment complex."

Wednesday morning, the calls will go out to Code Enforcement and The Chatham County Health Department.  Savannah's new City Manager Rob Hernandez will help lead that charge.

For now, this is a Matthew casualty that can't wait.

"That's why we sent 2,600 people up to Augusta to get them out of the issue these folks are living in right now," explains DeLoach.  "Some of them came back from Augusta back here and they're having to go back in to what they left."

Because these apartments are qualified as Section 8 housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has authority over the units and the tenants.

It also means that the conditions we witnessed Tuesday could be considered a breach of that federal contract with the landlord, or worse a federal crime.

We attempted to contact that landlord, Aspen Companies without success. We'll continue to follow this story for you.