Fort Wayne City Council voted unanimously Aug. 11 to delay by two weeks a vote to grant a tax abatement for a high-density residential project planned on the east side of Fort Wayne. During the meeting, several residents lodged complaints against the developer of the project who currently owns other nearby properties, which those residents allege are a source of crime and poor living conditions.
The proposed project by Keller Development is for two properties off East State Boulevard, along Laverne Avenue between State and Lake Avenue. The project known as Isabelle Gardens consists of 66 affordable housing units — 40 at 3710 E. State Blvd. and 26 at 1627 Laverne Ave. The apartments would be reserved and leased to households making 60% or less of the Allen County area median income. The project includes two- and three-bedroom apartments, and 14 of those apartments will be set aside for households in which at least one member has a disability.
A group of 11 residents in the neighborhood where the project is planned pleaded with City Council members to deny financial support to the project, citing concerns regarding the increased concentration of low-income housing in their neighborhood. One resident, Jeanna Wolford, presented a petition containing 134 signatures from neighbors who are against the project. She also presented several photographs to council members allegedly depicting the “deplorable” state of the apartments at Ryker Reserve, another property on Laverne Avenue that Keller Development owns. Wolford complained of garbage, roofing issues and mold in tenants’ apartments.
“If we allow them to add even more tenants that are going to fall victim to their lack of management into our neighborhood, they’re going to pay for it, my neighborhood’s going to pay for it,” Wolford said.
One resident of Ryker Reserve accused Keller of “gross neglect,” claiming residents have not been properly taken care of during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have safety concerns, we’ve had appliance issues, we have mold growing under our linoleum floors,” she told council. “… I do what I’m supposed to do, but they do not, and they continue to get away with it over and over and over.”
Other residents complained of vehicles being broken into as a result of low-income housing being constructed in the neighborhood, and several claimed it has had a negative impact on nearby Brentwood Elementary School. Others were concerned about an increase in traffic.
Greg Majewski, representing Keller at the meeting, said he could not speak on the photos that council received, as he had not seen them. However, he refuted many of the claims made by neighbors during the City Council meeting.
“We certainly understand that we are not a perfect property management company — we freely admit that,” he said. “However, we feel as though some of the characterizations made about Ryker Reserve, specifically, are not accurate. We stand behind everything that we develop and build and manage, and all of the accountability is in one place with our locally-based company.”
Majewski noted that Ryker Reserve opened in 2013, and 26 of the 65 apartments are currently occupied by residents that moved into the property the year it opened.
“We have a little bit of a misunderstanding with some neighbors and with some of our tenants about where some of these statements are coming from, because from where we stand this is a property we are proud of,” he said.
Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th district, noted his concern regarding the state of Ryker Reserve units depicted in the photographs shared with council, as well as the testimony from neighbors.
“I’d say those are pretty serious things other than just a property manager maybe not keeping up with things as possible,” Paddock said. “I mean, mold is very serious certainly in anybody’s home. Dirty appliances, human waste, etc., the list went on and on.”
Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-6th district, said she disagreed with some residents’ accusations that low-income housing would contribute to a rise in the crime rate, or that it would negatively impact schools. However, she did note that she has not supported tax abatements in the past.
Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd district, pointed out that voting against the tax abatement would not prevent Keller from proceeding with the project on its own.
“It’s already zoned properly,” Didier said. “A lot of the comments and things that were happening tonight from the constituents are concerns that are warranted but really need to be spelled out in the aspects of what our particular job is.”
Majewski told council members that Keller plans to move forward with the project whether it receives support from the city.
“We can make the project support itself without tax abatement,” he said. “However, we will lose a competitive edge in applying for rental housing tax credits from the state, and I don’t know if we would be successful in obtaining that funding source without financial support from the city, which is heavily prioritized by the state.”