Hope, wariness greet sale of Lakewood apartments

Yarco says it’ll fix up the place, but the possibility of losing privacy is an issue for some residents.
Monday, February 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:04 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Barbara Dolezal could use a new carpet. Fuzzy magenta bathmats cover the little bit of colorless industrial carpet in her living room. She hopes an elongated bookcase, stuffed with books and knickknacks, will distract guests’ eyes from the hallway’s torn carpet. That hole in the floor has been there as long as she has, about four years, but previous managers didn’t fulfill promises to repair it.

For the past year, however, Dolezal has been happy in her handicapped-accessible home at Lakewood Apartments. She said the new manager, after years of negligent predecessors, is getting things done.

Like other residents at Lakewood, Dolezal would like to see the $1.7 million in repairs proposed by Kansas City-based Yarco Cos., which is poised to take over management and ownership of Lakewood Apartments from the New Jersey-based Lakewood Associates. Still, she doesn’t want to lose the current staff or privacy in her home.

Yarco adding assets in Columbia

With a letter of recommendation granted by the Columbia City Council on Jan. 20, Yarco plans to take over Lakewood as soon as final details are approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yarco spokesman Stuart Hunt said he hopes that will happen by early summer.

Since Yarco bought Columbia Square more than two years ago, it has kept an eye out for more ownership and management opportunities in Columbia.

“If we’re in a community, it makes sense to have more than one property there,” Hunt said.

The Lakewood acquisition would be Yarco’s third project in Columbia within three years. In addition to Columbia Square, a Yarco project on Claudell Lane was approved by the city in November.

Yarco has won praise for improvements at Columbia Square, and Lakewood residents say they would welcome repairs at their complex. Dolezal and others, though, worry about reports of Yarco’s restrictive management style. This summer, the private company caught heat for conducting drug inspections with dogs at Columbia Square.

While Columbia College student Jackie Raines called Yarco’s drug inspections and scrutiny of residents ridiculous, she is more concerned about rent going up. She also sees little wrong with existing management.

“I don’t want much to change,” she said. “I like it how it’s managed now.”

Rental prices likely to drop

Once Yarco buys the Lakewood complex, HUD will determine new and generally lower rental prices. Yarco is prepared to operate the apartments at the complex at lower rent than tenants pay now, Hunt said. Of 100 units at the complex, 91 receive housing subsidies through the Section 8 program.

Residents will be able to live in their homes during the renovations. Hunt said that once the rehabilitation is under way, it should be finished in nine months to a year.

Yarco will honor all current leases. Once a resident has to renew, credit and background checks will be done, Hunt said. The lease contracts will be similar to those at Columbia Square and will include a provision allowing the company to do inspections on 24-hour notice.

Needed improvements expected

Some Lakewood residents look forward to the improvements Yarco might bring.

William Brightwell has lived for 12 years in a handicapped-accessible apartment. He said that the new managers have done a good job but that they just don’t get sufficient monetary support from Lakewood Associates. He said the repairs are worth the risk of change, and he’s not too worried about Yarco.

“If they do what they say they’re going to do, it’s going to be pretty good,” Brightwell said.

Dee McKee, the manager at Lakewood Apartments, said she thinks Yarco will handle Lakewood differently than it handles Columbia Square because of the different makeup of the communities, namely the history of drug problems at Columbia Square. McKee worked as an assistant manager at Columbia Square before Yarco bought it.

McKee said that although she has done much to improve the Lakewood property in the past year, the Yarco repairs are needed.

“With just some money, this property could be in great shape,” McKee said.

Yarco uses own management style

The Missouri Housing Development Commission wholeheartedly supports Yarco’s management of property, commission spokesman David Bryan said. The commission on Jan. 23 granted Yarco $165,000 in tax credits for its Claudell Lane project.

The commission subsidized other Yarco projects in Kansas City, as well. He said he thinks the company truly cares about the tenants and applauds its efforts to bring social services, such as after-school programs and computer centers, to its rehabilitated properties. The complaints from Columbia Square are the first he’s heard about Yarco in the six years he’s worked for the commission, Bryan said.

The biggest issues with affordable housing are keeping up with maintenance and providing sound management, Fifth Ward Councilman John John said. He said Yarco has accomplished this with the “massive improvement” of Columbia Square.

John said he understands that some of Yarco’s policies can seem intrusive, especially to residents who have little choice of where to live. But in general, John said, people are served better by knowing the rules will be enforced.

Dolezal hopes she can get along with Yarco and stay in her apartment, but she’s still apprehensive.

“They have their own methods of doing things,” she said. “They do not work for the community.”

If she doesn’t like its rules or the way they’re enforced, she said, moving out would be very difficult. She plans to settle into Lakewood for a long time, as evidenced by an apartment choked with collectible statues and family photographs. She said her sons aren’t anxious to move her again.

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