A group of tenants living in a fixed-income apartment complex for elderly residents in Northeast Portland are suing their landlord for not keeping the complex in “habitable condition” in recent years. The five tenants, represented by pro bono attorneys, live at the Allen Fremont Plaza apartments at 221 NE Fremont, a 64-unit complex for tenants 55 and older run by Reach Community Development, a nonprofit affordable housing agency.
The tenants claim that their recent requests to repair public bathrooms, elevators, door locks, and infestations have been ignored by management, resulting in unsafe living situations.
“It started out with just minor things, like parking lot light bulbs not being replaced and dryers clogged with lint,” said Lisa McConnell, one of the tenants named as a plaintiff. “But now it’s restricting access to shared bathrooms, and allowing strangers to come in and sleep in our hallways. It was a little snowball and it’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s not fair for people who pay rent.”
McConnell, who has lived at Allen Fremont for two years, said that after years of tenants’ concerns seemingly ignored, she and other tenants felt like they had no other choice but to sue their landlord. Her biggest complaints center around the shared common area on the building’s first floor, which hosts a living room, kitchen, and bathrooms. This common area was one of the features that attracted McConnell to the apartment complex, where she said other tenants make her feel “like family.”
“It’s a place to share meals, sit, have conversations,” McConnell said. “Some of us don’t have many other opportunities to socialize in our lives.”
According to McConnell and other tenants, one of the two public bathrooms on the first floor is regularly locked, forcing tenants to use the bathrooms in their apartments upstairs. McConnell said that solution doesn’t work for people with mobility issues or problems with incontinence, which is common for the elderly tenant base.
Huey Martin, another Allen Fremont tenant filing suit against Reach, said that the building’s lack of security has become a problem in recent years.
“We used to have a security guard who would patrol the building,” said Martin. “But now we have people breaking into the building every week.”
Martin said he’s regularly awoken in the middle of the night by strangers pounding on his apartment door. McConnell said she’s discovered strangers who appear to be homeless sleeping in her hallway in the morning. It makes her feel unsafe coming home late at night.
She said other tenants have had their cars broken into or stolen from the complex’s parking lot, and believes having a security guard on site would alleviate the problem.
According to Reach spokesperson Lauren Schmidt, Reach has a contract with a security team that conducts “foot patrols” twice a day every day at the Allen Fremont building. The tenants want a more permanent solution.
The tenants also accuse Reach of neglecting maintenance needs at the building, ranging from broken window blinds to rampant mold problems.
Schmidt denies these claims.
“The building is being cleaned regularly by a cleaning service, common area bathrooms are open during business hours, there is no water penetrating the building, and no active pest control concerns inside the building,” wrote Schmidt in an email to the Mercury. Reach sent letters to all Allen Fremont tenants Friday with similar information, notifying residents of upcoming community meetings where they can express their concerns.
Yet McConnell’s not convinced that the issue can be resolved outside of the courtroom. The five tenants, who are requesting a jury trial to amend their lawsuits, are each requesting a $14,400 refund for the rent they already paid while living in the subpar apartment complex. It's not the first time Reach has come under fire for its management of the Allen Freemont. In 2021, a Reach employee who worked at the complex was fired after tenants alleged the worker used racist slurs against Black residents.
Another former Reach employee, Bria O'Connell, has agreed to testify on behalf of the tenants if the case lands in court. In a court filing, O'Connell writes that she worked as an apartment manager at the complex in 2021, but "terminated my employment because Reach did not act on the safety of the elderly tenants at Allen Fremont."
As one of the younger tenants, McConnell feels responsible for representing the needs of those older and with less energy to push back.
“I was raised that if you believe in something, you fight for it,” she said. “Some of these people have been asking for changes for over five years, and nothing has changed. They’re just treated like ‘the complaining seniors,’ and not taken seriously. I will fight for them until these issues are resolved.”