Benton Plaza Mum About Broken Elevator, Disabled Tenants
This story has updates below, a response since publication.
Benton Plaza, an apartment building located the corner of Monroe and 4th, had an elevator go out of service and fifth floor tenant Susan Hooper was forced to stay five days with her ex-partner before finally being accommodated in a hotel.
The apartment building is advertised as being specially for people “58 and older, elderly, disabled or handicap affordable housing community.” Other than the typos on their own site, what they mean is all applicants must fit specific criteria to be able to live there.
Hooper alleges that the management company, Sterling Management, was trying to hide that tenants could be accommodated in a hotel.
Property manager Rise Aklin did not answer questions except to express thanks for reaching out and to say, “All issues regarding this matter have been resolved.”
Hooper said the elevator originally went out on Feb. 28, and Aklin said the issues were resolved on March 11.
In the meantime, in order to be accommodated, Hooper had to reach out to advocate Sam Ortiz. Hooper said that Ortiz is an advocate for others who lived in the building and while she was not Ortiz’s client, Ortiz was the person who helped her and others through the process.
Ortiz met with the owner, Jim Faulkner, in order to advocate for tenants who could not climb the stairs to reach their homes.
When Hooper was eventually accommodated, she said that Ortiz asked for displaced tenants to be given gift cards for food, something she said Faulkner had “a fit” about. Yet, basic necessities such as deodorant and shampoo — things one keeps in their home — were not supposed to be purchased and tenants had to keep their receipts to prove they hadn’t bought anything other than food.
“I don’t have any access to that stuff. I mean, the shampoo they have here [in the hotel room] is in this teeny, little bottle,” Hooper said. She said she bought it anyway, as she needed necessities, and kept the receipts to show the company.
“Also, it said not to buy cigarettes and alcohol. Which is kind of a stereotype, because it’s like people who are disabled, and you know, low income,” Hooper said, “we don’t all drink and smoke, and I don’t drink and smoke. And [the person Hooper interacted with] was really snippy with me.”
Hooper also added that Ortiz, seemingly out of nowhere, asked if she wanted a COVID-19 vaccine, something Hooper felt may have been a bribe on behalf of the company and owner, as it was not her turn.
UPDATE: When we initially published this story on March 30, we had not yet received an answer to our March 23 request for a response from Sterling Property Management. On May 4, we received an emailed response from the company, which is in an update below.
The property management company’s president and owner, Jami Sterling, emailed a response to this story on May 4. Sterling writes, “We hired outside temp employees along with strategizing a good plan with the owner of the building, the building managers along [with] Sam Ortiz and Denise Barbone to ensure all residents had access to outside amenities, food including housing if needed. It was an unfortunate situation and one we worked diligently with the elevator company to resolve as quickly as they could.”
After receiving Sterling’s email, we asked the company to make Rize Atkins available for an interview, and she said that Sterling staff personally contacted each of the building tenants to inform them that alternative accommodations and gift cards for food and other supplies would be available to any resident needing them. Unlike Hooper’s account, Atkins says residents were permitted to use the cards for toiletries if needed. Atkins said it took a period of three days to determine a plan forward, and to contact all the residents. Apparently, a number of residents could only be contacted by phone.
Sterling denies the building owner had a fit about making gift cards available, writing “in fact this was his idea.” As to Hooper’s impression that the offer of vaccination was a bribe, Sterling writes, “We had received a call from Benton County health on this particular day wanting to schedule vaccine appointments for our residents.”
We asked Atkins why she did not respond to the newspaper on March 23, and she said the decision to not respond came from the company.