The only thing separating Philip Baxley from his neighbor in their Bon Air Apartments on the ground floor is a flimsy, black tarp.
The drywall has been removed from the bottom portion of the wall, and the 66-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran can kick the tarp and see straight through to his neighbor’s unit.
After a small kitchen fire on a second-floor apartment July 19, ceiling sprinklers soaked the second through ground floors, causing water damage ranging from minor to severe in 22 units.
Bon Air management removed the carpets and most of the ceiling tiles in the hallways to prevent mold, and each unit had its unique alterations.
Baxley’s unit had all of its carpet ripped up, most of the ceiling tiles removed and one of its walls cut open to be fully exposed, but rent was still due Aug. 1.
“I don’t feel safe here, it’s not livable, but they’re still making me pay rent,” said Baxley, who has rented a room in Burke County until repairs are completed but still must pay his $311 rent portion at Bon Air. “I’m not trying to live for free. I just don’t want to have to pay here while I’m paying rent somewhere else.”
Bon Air’s management company, Ambling Management, initially relocated two residents with the most severely damaged apartments to different units within the building, according to Lisa Wannamaker, an attorney representing Ambling. However, management could not move anyone else because Bon Air had no more vacancies available, she said.
That left residents like Baxley with few options.
Bon Air is entirely Section 8, project-based voucher housing, a program that ties funding to the unit, not the tenant.
For project-based vouchers, public housing agencies enter into contracts with property owners for specific units. Because assistance is tied to the unit, a tenant who moves away from the property loses that voucher.
Wannamaker said Ambling gave tenants in damaged apartments the option to terminate their leases with no penalty but no one took the offer.
She acknowledged that it’s an undesirable option because moving out of Bon Air would mean losing the voucher, and the tenant would have to go to the bottom of the waiting list to get another.
Augusta Code Enforcement has not condemned any of the units, including Baxley’s, which Wannamaker said makes them habitable.
However, repair work has not been able to start because the insurance company has not yet approved Ambling’s claim, leaving tenants to wait and live in damaged apartments.
“Our hands are kind of tied,” Wannamaker said. “We are sitting on top of our insurance company right now because insurance will have to pay for the work done. We’re saying please, please, please come out here. Please approve our plans.”
In an e-mail, Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman Joseph Phillips said based on the code inspector’s clean inspection, Ambling is under no obligation to provide alternative housing to affected tenants.
Baxley said no one would want to live in such conditions.
“I guess this is life, but I’d just like for them to have compassion,” he said.