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WESA, PublicSource investigation reports health, safety violations at Midtown, Hi-View Gardens; bank says pandemic disrupted maintenance, promises improvements
Two local apartment complexes are now getting national attention after an investigation revealed that they're racking up dozens of health and safety violations — and their owner is one of the country’s largest banks.
An investigation by WESA-FM, Pittsburgh’s NPR station, and the non-profit PublicSource website reported that since PNC Bank purchased Hi-View Gardens and Midtown Plaza Apartments in 2018, tenants have been complaining about cutbacks in maintenance that they allege have led to broken heating systems, roach and mouse infestations, water leaks and mold.
The story was picked up this week by the nationally broadcast program, “Here & Now,” which airs on more than 450 public radio stations across the United States.
In 2019 and 2020, reported WESA and PublicSource, health code violations and 9-1-1 emergency calls from the properties jumped nearly 50 percent over the prior two years, before PNC purchased the properties.
About 200 families live in the two complexes, located Downtown.
Together, Hi-View and Midtown account for 5 percent of all rental housing in the city, but 42 percent of the housing code violations logged by the Allegheny County Health Department, the investigation alleged.
Tenants at Hi-View Gardens, who have recently formed a tenant council represented by a group of Pittsburgh attorneys, told reporters Kate Giammarise, Ryan Loew and Rich Lord they were “shocked” to learn that PNC Bank owns the properties.
The deeds are in the names of two limited-liability companies, McKeesport Urban Holdings 1 LLC and McKeesport Urban Holdings 2 LLC.
Limited-liability companies are subject to fewer regulations than most other forms of corporations. LLCs are not required to have boards of directors or officers — which shields their managers from public scrutiny — and shields their ultimate owners from many types of lawsuits.
Resident Tanya Brown told the WESA and PublicSource reporters that Hi-View, located along Sixth Avenue between Coursin and Huey streets, was “beautiful” when she moved into the complex in 2012.
“We had maintenance men (who) cleaned up the property and stuff,” Brown told the outlets. “It was the atmosphere where people wanted to live, you know, and it was all right.”
Since the PNC Bank takeover, however, residents have reported seeing maintenance decline, leading to water leaks, pest infestations, sewage backups and trash being uncollected.
Another Hi-View resident, Rhadia Hill, told the reporters that when she moved into the 117-unit complex in January 2018, “it was nice,” but that “when we got new management, that's when things started going downhill.”
Midtown Plaza, located along Sinclair Street, about a block away, is plagued by malfunctioning fire alarms and intruders, the investigation reported.
WESA and PublicSource reported that after PNC Bank purchased the apartment complexes, it partnered with other developers to apply for $11.4 million in low-income tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
PNC and its development team planned to use the credits to renovate the complexes, the investigation found. The application was denied.
According to published reports, PNC is now the fifth-largest bank in the United States both in the number of branches and amount of assets held.
A PNC executive vice president, Todd Crow, told the investigators that the bank was committed to keeping the Hi-View and Midtown complexes affordable and that it wants to redevelop and modernize the properties.
He said PNC Bank purchased the properties to keep the rent affordable to low-income tenants.
“Our concern was that a competing buyer could step in, buy these properties and choose not to extend the rental assistance contract in order to raise rents, likely displacing residents,” Crow said.
However, Crow told WESA and PublicSource, the bank’s efforts to update the apartment complexes have faced repeated setbacks, including PHFA’s decision not to grant the tax credits as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic prompted some residents to decline to allow maintenance teams into apartments, disrupted the schedules of exterminators who treat the buildings for insects and rodents, and made it harder to buy supplies and equipment, he told the reporters.
The bank and the property management company responsible for Hi-View and Midtown, Preservation Management Inc. of South Portland, Maine, are working to address the maintenance backlogs, Crow told the news organizations.
Residents told Giammarise, Loew and Lord they don’t buy the excuses.
“This was going on way before the COVID — way before the COVID,” Brown told the team.
The complete investigation can be read on PublicSource and WESA’s website.
Originally published August 28, 2021.