Columbus City Council voted Monday to approve an ordinance calling for each former resident to receive a one-time cash payment and furniture through a grant agreement with The Wells Foundation, a philanthropic organization that helps nonprofits.
The city voted to fund the grants by taking $230,000 from the Neighborhood Economic Development Fund and $35,000 from the city’s general fund’s Neighborhood Initiative subfund.
“Payment amounts will be calculated based on household size and monthly expense estimates as provided by the IRS and FEMA,” the approved ordinance states.
“Right now, we’re working with PAXE to focus on getting residents their possessions as much as we possibly can, relocating the residents and still working with several problems that we’re having in the buildings such as the elevators being out of commission and things like that,” Scott Messer, director of the Department of Building and Zoning Services said at Monday’s meeting.
On Christmas Day 2022, 154 households in the complex were immediately evacuated due to burst pipes and flooding. Residents who were unable to find alternative housing were set up with housing in motels, relocation services, and rental assistance.
On Feb. 16, Franklin County courts ordered Latitude Five25 owner Paxe Latitude to pay a $2.5 million fine to compensate the former tenants for damages. However, shortly after the judgment, PAXE filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, delaying those payments.
At Monday’s meeting, Quinten Harris, deputy director for the city’s Jobs and Economic Development Department, said 131 households have been approved for new housing, with 110 move ins reported.
“We are prioritizing pregnant mothers, seniors, and those with health issues,” Harris said, adding that some of the displaced residents have moved away or found alternative housing.
The ordinance states there remains a need for resources to allow those households to “re-establish their families in their new locations and acquire the household items that they need.”
“To date, philanthropic funding from partners (including Big Lots, CMHA, and the Equity Now Coalition) have been utilized to cover these items,” the ordinance states. “That funding has been exhausted and there are still approximately 30 households in need of basic furniture items including, but not limited to, a bed frame and mattress, sofa, and a dresser.”
Ann Barrett is a former Latitude Five25 resident. She’s adjusting to her new life at Bretton Woods Apartments in Columbus, but said there are parts of her past that are missing.
“I really wanted my two cast iron barstools from my apartment,” she said. “Won’t be able to get it.”
The furniture in her apartment was given to her by family or donation. She is one of those former residents who hasn’t been able to retrieve her belongings from her old apartment.
“We not going to get anything because that stuff has asbestos,” Barrett said.
Columbus City Councilmember Lourdes Barroso de Padilla said it was always council’s intention to help out the former residents and that the grants will be part of that effort.
“For many of them, they couldn’t take their belongings with them because they had to vacate the premises so quickly and so couches, pots, pans, clothing, whatever folks may need, this is a chance to give them the flexibility to meet their needs,” she said.
Barrett, however, thinks it’s not enough.
“Which they should’ve been done that from the beginning because how can you get an apartment with no furniture,” she said.
Council also received an update on the three court cases involving Paxe Latitude, with a bankruptcy hearing scheduled for Wednesday, and a May hearing scheduled on Paxe’s motion for relief from the $2.5 million fine.
Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein is also asking for $50,000 to pay for attorneys who are representing the city in the federal bankruptcy case filed by the owners of Latitude Five25 in New Jersey. That money, now approved, would come out of the city’s Environmental Fund.