Madison senior apartment complex remains evacuated 3 weeks after flood

September 13, 2018 GMT

More than three weeks after flooding knocked out electricity and mechanical systems at a 98-unit senior apartment complex on Madison’s Southwest Side, residents were racking up hotel bills or thinking about moving as they waited for city inspectors and the property’s manager to let them back in.

It’s the only apartment complex in Madison still in such dire straits in the wake of Aug. 20 storms that dumped as many as 15 inches of rain on parts of western Dane County.

“It’s an experience you think you’re never going to have,” said 71-year-old Joan Graham, who had been living at Prairie Park senior apartments since May. “This has been rough on us.”

Madison building inspector George Hank said once the electrical and fire alarm systems pass inspection, first-floor residents of the three-story development at 6530 Schroeder Road can return. In an update posted online Wednesday, building manager Greystone Property Management, based in New York, said first-floor residents could be allowed back into their apartments “throughout the day.”

The electrical contractor called for the city to do its inspection Wednesday, Hank said. City Fire Marshal Ed Ruckriegel said there’s no fire panel inspection scheduled but that the city would allow for a “fire watch” — someone employed to monitor the building continuously for fire — to serve until the inspection is done, meaning the Fire Department would also OK the return of first-floor residents.

Second- and third-floor residents will have to wait until at least one of the complex’s elevators is running; that’s expected to be done by Tuesday at the latest.

Gary Bakken, 75, who lives in a first-floor unit, was at the complex Wednesday morning with a couple of other residents waiting to be allowed into the building to retrieve some personal belongings and get updates on repairs. He’s been staying at a series of hotels he keeps getting kicked out of by people with reservations.

Graham said it took multiple calls from her attorney before Greystone would allow her and her 74-year-old husband, Ernie, to move out of their first-floor unit. Movers on Wednesday were taking their belongings to a new senior apartment complex on the city’s South Side. The couple had been staying at a Super 8 motel in Watertown.

Before an onsite Prairie Park employee asked a Wisconsin State Journal reporter to leave, Bakken and Graham said they were unhappy with the way Greystone has responded to residents.

“The biggest problem is there’s such a lack of concern,” Graham said.

Bakken acknowledged that the storm and flooding were historic — some 5 feet of water filled Prairie Park’s underground garage — but said Greystone has failed to communicate with residents and been slow to respond to their needs.

“I think it’s all because corporate is out of state,” he said.

Bakken’s lease runs out in March, and he hasn’t decided if he wants to stay.

“There’s no affordable housing in Madison for singles,” he said.

Greystone spokeswoman Karen Marotta said the company and the property’s owner, nonprofit Harmony Housing, have been providing updates on building repairs and occupancy through a website set up for that purpose. There’s a manager on site, she said, but that person has to deal with contractors, inspectors and others working to get the property habitable and can’t always be available to answer residents’ questions.

She also said Wednesday afternoon that those who want to move out of the complex to go live in another place will be allowed to do so as long as they realize they might not have access to an elevator.

Greystone is not charging residents for the days they’ve been unable to live in their apartments and Wednesday afternoon announced that its “insurance provider has indicated that they will cover reasonable and necessary temporary housing expenses that are above and beyond the per-day rent you would have paid during the time you have been displaced.”

“These expenses have to be documented with receipts,” the company said.

The company has also been providing residents with $500 checks and “care packages” with household necessities.

Formally ordered by the city to evacuate on Aug. 22, Prairie Park residents had been out of their homes for 22 days as of Wednesday.

Only one other building, a 16-unit apartment complex also on Schroeder Road, was ordered evacuated, Hank said, but residents were able to return within a week.

Residents of a building near the Yahara River on East Main Street voluntarily evacuated, Hank said, and they returned in a week to 10 days.

Hank did not identify any problems with Prairie Park’s construction or location that would have made it especially susceptible to flooding.

“A lot of it was bad luck,” he said.

The area got 9 to 10 inches of rain in a short period of time, he said, and buildings are not generally designed to handle that much.