CINCINNATI – It`s not just single-family homes being affected by subprime mortgage foreclosures. When lenders foreclose on an apartment building, many people can be forced to scramble for housing.
“They`re getting ready to put us out in the cold,” said Jimmy Watkins, 59, a registered sex offender who faces restrictions on where he can live. “I`m a lost ball in the high weeds, and I know it. I live in dumps like this because no one else wants me around.”
Watkins and eight other people who live in the Irish Manor apartments, part of a 24-unit building that has no electricity or water service and no trash collection because the owner knew foreclosure was coming and stopped paying the bills.
About 16 percent of properties sold in foreclosure sales in Hamilton County this year are multifamily houses or apartment buildings, according to an analysis by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Many of the fixtures in Watkins` building have been stolen, and squatters have taken over some vacant apartments. The city Department of Buildings and Inspections has ordered tenants to leave by Dec. 20.
“This is a thing we`re running into wherever there`s a multifamily that`s in foreclosure,” said Ed Cunningham, supervisor of housing inspections. “Owners will just walk away from it and leave the tenants to their own devices about how to live there. It becomes a free-for-all.”
Irish Manor landlord Kevin O`Reilly declared bankruptcy in September, claiming liabilities of $1.5 million. Court records show that he used adjustable-rate mortgages to buy three properties, then couldn`t keep up with the payments.
“I was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it got so big that from a logistics standpoint, I didn`t know what was going on,” O`Reilly said.
He blamed tenants who didn`t pay rent and drug dealers in the neighborhood.
“I thought I could do a better job, like any investor does,” O`Reilly said. “What they don`t tell you is what happens when you buy something in a bad neighborhood … and then the neighborhood is after you, and then the city arrests you because you have these crackheads all over.”
The city has charged O`Reilly with numerous building code violations, such as failing to repair fire doors, provide smoke detectors, fix drywall, remove trash and repair dangerous electrical fixtures.
Mary Kuhl, co-founder of the neighborhood activist group Westwood Concern, urged the city to tear down obsolete apartment buildings such as Irish Manor.
“This is the perfect example of why we keep screaming from the rooftops to the city,” she said. “Buy it and tear it down. It`s outlived its usefulness.”
Residents have no hope of getting their security deposits back, making it difficult to find a new place to live. Without a job and with a felony record in his past, Watkins says his options are limited.
“I don`t mind suffering, as long as I know everyone else who lives here has a place to go,” he said.