372 code violations: Wilmington condemns apartment block, forcing dozens of tenants into shelters

The condemned apartment buildings are on the 800 block of Adams Street, one block off I-95. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The condemned apartment buildings are on the 800 block of Adams Street, one block off I-95. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

All was eerily quiet Wednesday morning on the 800 block of Adams Street in Wilmington — a sharp contrast to the turmoil two days earlier.

That’s when the city condemned seven apartment buildings, with 27 units and dozens of tenants suddenly forced to vacate their homes.

The city had declared the attached buildings uninhabitable after a brick wall between two of the structures partially collapsed.

The seven buildings were condemned after the partial collapse of this wall between two of them. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

That triggered a chaotic scene with irate residents confronting the landlord, who remained in his car as elected officials arrived to try to sort out the mess. The city subsequently inspected all the apartments and issued 372 violation notices to the landlord, A.J. Pokorny.

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Jeremy Wiggins, who used to stay with a friend in one of the units and now lives nearby, was at the scene Wednesday when bright red and yellow condemnation notices were pinned to the front doors of each building. The grass grew high out back. On one weathered deck, a resident’s bicycle was chained to the spindles.

Wiggins said Pokorny had been there to make sure the buildings were locked and no one could enter.

A tenant’s bicycle and other belongings are visible on one weathered deck with damaged spindles. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“I think it’s kind of messed up. They came and just kicked everybody out at one time,” Wiggins said as he pointed to a pile of crumbled bricks where the wall had failed. “They had nowhere to go. All of a sudden they put a lot of people out of here. They were homeless, had nowhere to go.”

Wiggins said he spoke to many of the tenants Monday.

“There’s a whole bunch of maintenance problems that need to be fixed and whatnot,” he said. “And the tenants have been complaining for a while and saying they needed to be fixed. And it’s basically inhabitable for human living.”

John Rago, spokesman for Mayor Mike Purzycki, issued an update Wednesday on the plight of the tenants, as well as the issues affecting the buildings on the block right off I-95:

  • Residents of 10 apartments are being housed at the Hope Center, a former Sheraton hotel converted by New Castle County into a transition center for people experiencing homelessness. The city is paying for their lodging.
  • Tenants of seven more units are staying at a local hotel at state expense.
  • An unknown number of residents are staying with family and friends.
  • Pokorny has been directed by the state to provide a complete list of tenants in the affected buildings that authorities will use to confirm their whereabouts.
  • Pokorny was also given an Emergency Order that listed the 372 violations.

The violations included faulty electrical and heating equipment, broken doors and windows, the presence of roaches, water leaks, structurally unsound floors, mold and mildew, inoperable smoke detectors, broken plumbing fixtures, and much more.

Pokorny was given 30 days to rectify all the violations or face a $250 fine for each one. The city also informed him it could hire contractors to make the repairs or demolish the buildings if he failed to comply, and then place a lien against them to recover the costs of repairs or demolition.

Condemnation notices were plastered on the front doors of the seven attached buildings. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Rago also directed residents who have not found shelter to contact the Porter State Service Center for assistance.

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On Thursday, the city will open a resource center for residents at the Emergency Operations Center on South Heald Street.

County Executive Matt Meyer, who lives near where the homes were condemned, heard about the situation unfolding Monday through Facebook messages. He pedaled over on his bicycle, where he joined Purzycki and other city and state politicians who had raced over.

The grass is overgrown behind the buildings. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Meyer said the tenants were put in an untenable position.

“I felt some of the shock, felt some small part of the shock that I think many of the families felt,  feeling like they did everything right,” Meyer said. “They’re paying their rent, they’re going to work, and they suddenly cannot enter their homes and get their belongings.”

Working with county housing officials and the Hope Center staff, Meyer helped secure the 10 units at the facility off Old Airport Road, about six miles south of Wilmington.

The exterior of this building shows damage. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“We have an affordable housing crisis in our communities, in many communities across our country,” Meyer said.

“And I think we as leaders need to step up and do what we can to address properties that are in unsafe condition, and also make sure that ultimately, bottom line, that people get taken care of, that everybody has a quality place to sleep in with their family every night.”

Below is the city’s report, including photos, on the condemnation and 372 code violations.

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