Residents ousted from run-down apartments, owner blames Irma damage

Aug 24, 2018
The sign marks the entry to the Grand Lake Apartment complex in Belle Glade, where the Palm Beach County Housing Authority reports it lost more than $1 million in taxpayer money on a failed plan to rebuild the complex. Photo taken in January 2017. (Wayne Washington/The Palm Beach Post)

The troubled Grand Lake Apartment complex in Belle Glade is closing because of Hurricane Irma damage, giving residents, including children, until Oct. 5 to find new homes.

Nearly a year after the storm struck Sept. 10, the complex owner blamed the closure on its insurance company, which it said has failed to pay for needed repairs to the expansive 32-building community.

Although the owner, Miami-based Ytech International, said it stopped renewing leases after the storm, 81 apartments in the 384-unit complex are still occupied. Ytech bought the 30-year-old apartments in 2013 for $7.6 million, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser.

“We had truly hoped that we would be able to make the additional and necessary repairs to the property and continue providing a home for our tenants,” said Grand Lake Apartments spokesperson Danielle Alvarez. “Our upmost priority at this time is the impact this will have on our residents.”

RELATED: Deal to fix troubled complex falls through, adding to PBC housing woes

Hurricane Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 storm, but brushed by the Glades with weaker winds. Measurements gathered by the National Weather Service showed sustained winds of up to 65 mph and hurricane-force gusts of up to 78 mph in locations around Lake Okeechobee.

But Grand Lake struggled with dilapidated conditions long before Irma.

In August 2015, 200 residents faced displacement because of health and safety problems that included broken or missing staircases, rodent infestations, mold, garbage, open sewer pipes and discarded mattresses and tarps in abandoned swimming pools.

In February, it was revealed the Palm Beach County Housing Authority lost more than $1 million in taxpayer money on a failed plan to rebuild the complex. Van Johnson, the former executive director of the housing authority, was fired by its governing board in July 2017. The board described his tenure as one of “financial malfeasance, gross mismanagement and ethics violations.”

The housing authority gets its money from the federal government.

RELATED: $50 million rehab planned for Glades complex

Before he was fired, Johnson told Palm Beach County commissioners Ytech made “unreasonable” demands of the housing authority on the plan to rebuild Grand Lake.

Residents at the complex were told Wednesday their leases were being terminated.

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the county’s Community Services Department is working with residents and Ytech to find new homes.

“There’s not much affordable housing in Belle Glade or throughout Palm Beach County,” Baker said. “We want to keep the families in the Glades so the kids don’t have to change schools.”

Ytech said it is giving residents $200 in relocation “credit”, a $25 Winn Dixie gift card, 10 moving boxes, one roll of tape, and assistance moving their belongings from their apartments to vehicles “located on the property.”

On its website, Ytech says it is one of the largest owners of multifamily properties in South Florida, having developed and redeveloped more than 7,000 residential units in the past 10 years.

“We are working with the owner to help residents because the county is really the safety net and we want to prevent homelessness,” Baker said. “The owners of these complexes have some responsibility as well.”

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