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After facility and casework problems, rebuilding trust with veterans at Piquette Square a work in progress

Robert Vinson has lived at Piquette Square since it opened in 2010.
Aaron Mondry
/
Outlier Media
Robert Vinson has lived at Piquette Square since it opened in 2010.

Earlier this year, Michigan Radio documented years of dire conditions at an apartment complex for some of Detroit’s most vulnerable residents.

Nearly one-third of the units at Piquette Square in Milwaukee Junction had been destroyed by water damage. The low-income veterans who live there also said they weren’t being supported by case managers and that there had been a rise in substance use among tenants.

Piquette Square promised to bring an end to veteran homelessness in Detroit — but residents complain it has gone downhill.

There’s no other comparable facility in the city to Piquette Square, offering affordable units and counseling to veterans. Residents of the 150-unit building say they are still waiting for renovations to finish and improvements to services. The building is owned by MiSide Community Impact Network, a recent merger between the nonprofits Southwest Solutions Inc. and Development Centers Inc. Based on its last annual report, Southwest Solutions brought along 23 apartment developments and 618 units of affordable housing in the merger, including Piquette Square.

MiSide is working to fix the building and build back trust with residents, who told Outlier Media that management has gotten more responsive in recent months. But some longstanding issues remain unresolved.

MiSide CEO Sean de Four said the repairs will cost $2.2 million and are expected to finish by the end of the year.

“The residents will have almost a brand new unit once construction is complete,” de Four said.

Two floods — one in December 2022 and another several months later — caused severe damage to an entire wing of the building. MiSide began repairs in March to renovate 45 apartments and common areas including hallways. Tenants have been temporarily relocated to other empty units in the building.

The constant upheaval of flooding, relocation and construction has put a strain on residents, said Robert Vinson, a veteran of the Vietnam War who has lived at Piquette Square since it first opened. He’s also a floor captain who helps organize events and makes himself available when other veterans need someone to talk to.

“It’s stressful to have to deal with this every single day,” Vinson said. “Most of these people, because they’re veterans, won’t complain. But how could it not be stressful?”

Piquette Square was a brand new building when it first opened in 2010. There were issues right away. The building’s original water pipes are faulty and cause regular leaks. (The two floods were caused by unrelated issues.)

MiSide is replacing the plumbing in individual units as they’re being renovated. De Four said it can’t afford the $10 million price tag to replace the rest of the pipes. A complete system overhaul will have to wait until 2026 when the building will be eligible for tax credits. Until then, MiSide will fix leaks as they happen.

Cameron Bell’s father Henry Bell lived at Piquette Square until he died in May at the age of 57 of complications caused by cirrhosis. Cameron Bell said his dad was unhoused before moving into Piquette Square soon after it opened. The building was a blessing at first, but conditions and management steadily deteriorated.

Listen to this remembrance of U.S. Army Specialist Henry Bell
Bell died in May, shortly after speaking to Michigan Radio about problems at Piquette Square.
Henry Bell, Army veteran and Piquette Square resident.

“When he first moved in, the building was pristine,” Bell said. “But it started to change, and it’s definitely not what it used to be.”

Bell said there might not be a direct line between the conditions of the building and his father’s death, but he thinks it might have contributed to it.

“The moisture, the mold, the noise, the stress,” Bell said. “He had to live with that day to day and I think it probably played a part.”

De Four said Michigan Radio’s reporting was a wake-up call for MiSide.

“These are heroes who have sacrificed a lot for our country. And to provide them a place to rehabilitate and live comfortably and safely is really a core to our mission,” he said. “And we feel like it’s an honor we take it very seriously.”

De Four said MiSide is addressing many of the residents’ issues. The nonprofit added another security guard to ensure there will be security 24 hours a day. It also hired KMG Prestige to handle day-to-day property management at all MiSide residential properties to improve response time to maintenance requests. De Four said staff shortages caused by the pandemic caused MiSide to reassess its property management capacity.

Beyond property management, residents complained about declining support services and an increase in substance use. Vinson said many veterans need someone to talk to or help them through problems, whether it’s a mental health issue or something more straightforward like recertifying residency.

Vinson said there used to be at least four case managers on site, whereas now there are only two.

De Four said residents likely noticed a difference during the pandemic when case managers worked remotely some of the time. They’re now on-site full-time. Case managers have also been encouraged to increase their “visibility and presence” by doing regular walk-throughs and knocking on doors, he said.

“Engagement with case management from residents has remained pretty consistent, and it’s very high in that building,” de Four said.

Vinson disputed this description, saying one of the case managers never leaves the office.

“I think she’s just here to get a paycheck,” he said. “She doesn’t really care about the veterans here.”

Cameron Bell knows what that building and the other residents meant to his father. He hopes one day it can return to being the safe, supportive place it once was.

“Who knows what that place will be like in 10 years, but it has so much potential,” Bell said.

Thanks to our partners at Outlier Media for this story. You can find the original story on their website and sign up for their newsletters here.

Aaron Mondry is a reporter with Outlier Media. He writes The Dig, a weekly newsletter on housing and real estate.
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