In an otherwise tidy home on the first floor in the Westbridge Apartment complex off of John Barrow Road in Little Rock, Jerome Jerry Jackson Jr.’s floor was still drying after waste water recently soaked the floor.
This is no new occasion, Jackson, 79, said while flicking through photos on his phone of similar leaks and problems during the last two years. It was just yesterday that the toilet in his one-bed, one-bath apartment had to be secured back to the floor after a leak.
Jackson has called this apartment home for the last 13 years, but the living conditions have grown so bad that he wants to leave. Living on a fixed income, Jackson doesn’t have the funds to go.
A Vietnam veteran and former truck driver, Jackson was the only resident willing to speak Wednesday afternoon at the apartments. Others were afraid of repercussions and losing their home if they upset management, Jackson said.
“I’m talking for everybody because of the way they’re doing all of us,” he said. “Me personally, I can’t go because I ain’t got nothing. Give me back what you took from me, and I’ll be glad to get away from here.”
Leaving is easier said than done, but residents don’t have much of a choice.
In mid-February, residents received a notice that the Section 8 income-based program will end at the units at Westbridge Apartments on April 30. This change means that Jackson, who only receives $600 monthly, would be required to pay $786 to live in this unit, energy bill not included, starting on May 1. He currently pays $150 for rent, and his most recent electric bill came in at over $250.
Ladetria Lambert, the manager at the Westbridge Apartments, confirmed Wednesday that the Section 8 vouchers would no longer be accepted at the complex. She said that residents living in the units would either have to pay the increased rent rate or find a new place to live by May 1.
Residents would have to talk with a case worker to get an enhanced housing voucher to help pay for the increased rent, Lambert said.
Arkansas Business reported in 2021 that a New Jersey-based group called OBH Westbridge, LLC, an affiliate of Omni + Brooks Holdings, bought the 180-unit apartments for $9.1 million. Akiva Kranz is listed as the agent, incorporator and organizer.
Living on a fixed income doesn’t give Jackson much of a choice for alternative housing, and he said that he wants to be reimbursed for his rent payments since the summer of ‘21 — that’s when things really started getting bad. If he had those extra funds, he said that he would move immediately.
Residents would have been given 12 months to prepare for a move if the complex had followed the federal requirements for notice, said Neil Sealy with Arkansas Renters United. Only select units in the Westbridge complex accept Section 8 vouchers, and the specific type of voucher can only be used at the complex, Sealy said. It won’t be accepted somewhere else.
Though they didn’t speak, Jackson’s neighbors share similar problems and frustrations, he said.
Unknown water leaks into Jackson’s apartment most days. When it rains, the rain seeps indoors through a poorly insulated patio door behind his tv. The dishes in his kitchen storage fill with water dripping from the ceiling, which busted through but was replaced with what Jackson said was cardboard.
The water build-up has led to what looks like black mold along his bedroom window. Jackson said that he often wakes up with blood soaking onto his pillow, and he thinks that it’s because he’s constantly breathing in mold.
The carpet in his living room has blood stains from what he was told was a previous death in the apartment. Third party carpenters have replaced the padding underneath when necessary, but put back down the original, dingy rug. Outside his apartment, sewer water keeps the ground moist. He said that it smells so strong in the summertime that it’s hard to stand outside for long.
Members with Arkansas Renters United and Arkansas Community Organizations are working with residents like Jackson to provide them legal service and housing assistance. Sealy and others were on-site today to help get the word out about the poor conditions.