A special called meeting of the Crossville City Council has been scheduled for Tuesday at the City Hall. The topic? Matters relative to the so-called “procedural error” in condemning the Village Inn hotel last Wednesday and displacing more than one hundred tenants in one day.
According to the City press release, several safety violations were discovered at the Village Inn during a drug raid on one unit last Wednesday morning. That’s when the City Codes Division issued a condemnation order that all residents vacate the premises within twelve hours and that VEC would be disconnecting electricity to the Village Inn. Wednesday night, dozens of residents were stranded without living quarters. Some area agencies and churches pitched in to secure hotel rooms for some of the displaced families. But that was for one night – two at the most – then the residents were going to have to find somewhere to live.
Village Inn landlord Steve Threet told CNF Thursday that he was in shock the City would simply turn all his tenants out of their ‘homes’ with only twelve hours’ notice
In a major turn of events, the very next day, Thursday, City Manager Greg Wood called Steve Threet and said there had been a ‘procedural error’ by the City and that all the residents could return ‘home’ and VEC would be reconnecting the power to the Village Inn. There was no further explanation by the City Manager. Friday, a special called meeting was called for the Council which states: The City Attorney will be present to discuss legalities surrounding the recent Notice of Condemnation issued to the Village Inn by City Administration.
Crossville Fire Department inspectors also conducted checks on the rooms and reportedly, both city agencies logged enough violations to warrant the ordered shutdown of the facility.
Crossville Fire Department has been dispatched to two fires at the housing complex over the past year and city police have answered numerous calls there.
The Village Inn has been owned by Dr. Robert Wood for about 16 years and is managed by Steve Threet, who met with city officials Monday to get a check list of items that needed to be corrected before anyone can occupy the facility.
“I am very upset with the way this was handled,” Wood said Monday morning. “We were completely blindsided by this.” He compared Friday’s actions to Gestapo tactics and said he was very disappointed that he was not given an opportunity to correct deficiencies before having his business shut down.
“I just don’t think this was the way they should have gone about it,” the owner said.
Wood said he learned of certain rights and responsibilities through city officials Monday with one being that he could insist on room inspections to make sure conditions were sanitary.
“I didn’t know I had a right to go in and tell people to put their food up in their own home,” Wood said. “I didn’t know we had a right to go in and tell people how to live their lives. I didn’t know what our options are.”
Assisting with traffic control and safety was the Crossville Police Department, but Police Chief David Beaty said his department’s only role in the incident was safety.
“This is not a police action,” Beaty said. “We are standing by to assist the other agencies and the public, for safety and for traffic control.” One street that separates the buildings in the complex was blocked off.
Also present were attorneys and an investigator from the 13th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office, City Attorney Kenneth Chadwell and representatives from the Cumberland County Chapter of the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Linary Church of Christ and First Methodist Church of Crossville offered assistance to those misplaced by the closing.
Sisters Cafe was open Friday and Saturday and was not involved in Friday’s action. The restaurant is a separate entity from the housing complex and remains open.
The inn has 114 rooms but not all were occupied. City codes enforcement officers went room-to-room, inspecting both the inside and outside of the facility and making a list of suspected code violations.
Authorities said they were acting on complaints filed by sources in the school system after children who live at the Village Inn were arriving for class with roach-infested backpacks and bugs on their person.
Complaints were filed with the Department of Children’s Services and with city officials.
Among complaints that were discussed at the scene were a lack of posted fire escape plans, lack of fire extinguishers, and unsanitary conditions which included roaches in the rooms and some rooms with mold, loose hand railings and loose steps on outside metal stairs.
Inspectors said that when they entered some rooms, roaches fell from the ceilings onto their heads.
One room that had a lot of mold in it had locked up inside several dogs and cats.
Wood said that he pays for an exterminator service that makes regular visits, but that some tenants refused to let the exterminator into their rooms.
He also stated that Threet had contacted the Department of Childrens’ Services on more than one occasion to express concern about living conditions in at least one apartment.
“We are working real close with the city and plans are to make the corrections and bring it up to code so folks can move back in, if we can,” Threet said. “We have a lot of folks, older folks, who have lived here for a lot of years. This was their home.”
Wood isn’t so sure is he will reopen the Village Inn or not. He hasn’t seen the check list of deficiencies that the city codes department wants corrected.
“It has been a losing thing lately. We put money into it,” Wood said. “I am not sure it is a smart thing to put money into it. It doesn’t make sense to put more money into it when you are losing money, but it has kept people employed. We have been looking at closing the older section. We will have to see what needs to be done.”
Wood said the Village Inn has provided affordable housing for low-level income people who could pay for their efficiency apartments by the week, every-other-week or by the month.
In exchange for their rent money, residents are provided a small efficiency apartment, water, electric, heat and 100 channels of cable television.
“Some of these people have been with us for seven, eight, nine years. This is their home,” the retired doctor said.
Wood said a final decision on whether he would spend the money it would take to bring the facility up to code will come after he receives a checklist of what the city codes department wants done.
That list is expected to be provided late Monday afternoon, he said.