They paid up to $1,000 a month - to live in a place so filthy Charlotte might tear it down

Piles of trash sit at the end of a hallway on the third floor of the Airport Parkway Inn & Suites.
Piles of trash sit at the end of a hallway on the third floor of the Airport Parkway Inn & Suites. akormann@charlotteobserver.com

Two Charlotte City Council members are asking officials to help tenants at a hotel near uptown after an Observer investigation showed low-income families with children, the disabled and others were forced to stay in unsafe and squalid conditions.

In emails to city officials this week, council members Julie Eiselt and Vi Lyles said they want administrators to study options for dealing with the Airport Parkway Inn and Suites on Wilkinson Boulevard, including taking control of the building.

“The situation at this hotel is truly sickening,” Eiselt wrote. “From a city standpoint, the fact that we cannot do anything about it except continue to issue citations is not an acceptable answer.”

Lyles, who is running for mayor wrote: “I concur we with need to determine what can be done with this deplorable housing quickly. I would also like to know if there are other hotels operating as apartments in this same situation. And do we have federal funding for relocation of the people living there?”

An Observer report published last week found the Airport Parkway Inn and Suites has been repeatedly cited for code enforcement violations since the beginning of 2015, including rooms with no heat or air conditioning, piles of garbage, bedbugs and broken windows.

The hotel operator has promoted the Airport Parkway online as therapeutic housing for the homeless and people recovering from drug addiction. But former tenants, who could pay up to $1,000 a month to live there, and a neighboring business say the hotel has become a magnet for drugs and crime.

One of the most striking examples was late last year when a 65-year-old man wasn’t discovered for three days after he died in his room near a suspected crack pipe, according to a state medical examiner’s report. He died from cocaine toxicity and the use of oxycodone and diazepam, an anti-anxiety drug, the report says.

Delores Jordan, who operates the Airport Parkway, acknowledges the building has been plagued with roaches and bedbugs. But Jordan said former tenants have exaggerated the problems and the business has minor issues “like any other two- or three-star hotel.”

When city inspectors have documented violations, she said she has addressed their concerns. City leaders should spent more time trying to find solutions to Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis, Jordan said.

“You can tear the building down, but the people left here would have nowhere to go,” she said. “The problem is with affordable housing.”

Tougher penalties?

Airport Parkway is a part of a little-noticed segment of Charlotte’s housing market, where people suffering from mental illness and drug addiction or simply with nowhere else to go seek permanent shelter in weekly motels because they don’t have enough money for a deposit, utilities and other expenses to move into an apartment.

The hotels and motels are scattered across the Charlotte area and precise numbers are elusive, but they are most well-known along Sugar Creek Road in north Charlotte and Wilkinson Boulevard, west of uptown.

Tenants typically pay between $200 and $300 a week to stay in rooms on a long-term basis. Advocates for the poor say the hotels can be lucrative because Charlotte has a severe shortage of affordable housing and homeless shelters are always at capacity.

The Airport Parkway has been cited for more than 20 violations since the beginning of 2015. Authorities did not appear to escalate action against the hotel until a county commissioner complained in July.

This week, code enforcement inspectors plan to look throughout the building’s 60 rooms for possible sanitary and safety violations under the city’s minimum housing standards ordinance. Officials will decide whether to order repairs, take the property owner to court or recommend that City Council order the structure demolished.

In her email to city leaders, Eiselt suggested that officials stiffen penalties for violating the city’s health and sanitation ordinances.

Rules give code enforcement inspectors the authority to fine repeat offenders $50 for health and sanitation violations. The office also can hire private contractors for services such as garbage removal or grass cutting and seek repayment from the property owner.

Officials are considering a proposal that would allow the city to impose stiffer fines of $150, $250 and $500 against repeat and chronic offenders.

“If nothing can be done under the current ordinance to close this business, what legal remedy is available in a change to the ordinance?” Eiselt asked. “We see this in other situations where home and business owners do not seem to be fazed by citations, knowing nothing more punitive will happen. Perhaps if the owner of the Airport Parkway Inn and Suites had thought he would be shut down, it would have been cleaned up a long time ago. And, we would not have to continually expend scarce Code Enforcement resources, when in fact nothing changes.”

But Eiselt’s email also acknowledged that shuttering the hotel could leave an unknown number of people, including children, without shelter. She asked whether the city should consider use money from a trust fund dedicated to building affordable housing to take over the hotel and repair it.

Interviews with current and former tenants found many receive less than $1,000 a month in Social Security disability benefits. The average apartment in Charlotte rents for about $1,100 a month.

Clasen-Kelly: 704-358-5027; @FrederickClasen