As temperatures outside crept lower and lower over the last two weeks, some tenants of Tyrol Hills apartments say things aren’t much better when they walk into their apartments.
Some residents of the 119-unit complex just north of Columbia Pike say that in the depths of winter cold, the windows in their apartments do little to keep out freezing winds, and the radiators aren’t providing enough heat.
“It doesn’t come on enough,” said Maru Hailu. “Even I live on the first floor. The second and third floor, just forget it. They are freezing.”
County inspectors and the manager of the complex respond that residents have unrealistic expectations. But both county staff and housing advocates agree that the problems at Tyrol Hills are symptomatic of Arlington’s affordable housing Catch-22: aging buildings with maintenance problems are often the only homes that low-income families and immigrants can afford.
<b>TYROL HILLS IS</b> a series of two- and three-story, red-brick buildings dating from the mid-1940s.
Close to half of the residents are Eritrean and Ethiopian immigrants, said Kristin Carbone, coordinator for Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice (BRAVO). There’s also a large Latino population at Tyrol Hills and in other nearby apartment complexes.
BRAVO has spent two years working with Tyrol Hills residents, and BRAVO coordinators have heard the same complaints from residents in the past: poor wiring in aging apartments means the residents are too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter.
“It’s not only, is heat coming out enough, or in every room,” said Carbone. “It’s the overall package … windows are old, the conditions of apartments are old.”
<b>THIS SUNDAY</b> in one apartment, two radiators in a two-bedroom apartment were warm, not hot, to the touch. At the same time, the radiator in one bedroom, next to the window, was cold.
In addition, the windows are cranked open and shut, with screens that don’t fit firmly in the window frame, allowing air to flow in from outside. In hallways, cranks are missing and some latches are don’t firmly close.
Residents complain of roaches and occasional rats, and say they are afraid to complain too often to management, for fear of being evicted. One Tyrol Hills resident said he is afraid to complain too much about the problems in his apartment, because he only pays $800 a month for a two-bedroom.
The apartment showed its age in some rooms, with cracked plaster running the length or breadth of some rooms, a dripping bathroom sink and cracked shower tiles.
Renters try to cope with the radiators and windows with space heaters, said Maru. “I bought a small heater, but the bigger problem is, it blows out the fuse.”
<b>MARU AND OTHER</b> Tyrol Hills residents have written letters to the county since the winter started. Vivian Peterson, a code enforcement inspector for the county, looked into the complaints, but said that the residents may be their own worst enemy.
“The tenants I went in to see, have had all their radiators blocked by big, puffy couches,” she said. “Not one of them was under 65 degrees. In fact, it ran from 65 to 84 in each room.”
She did note problems with Tyrol Hills’ windows. “There are some problems with deteriorating window seals. I did a full-code inspection with a team, and found the windows deteriorated even in September,” Peterson said.
Still, she said, some window problems might be anticipated. “It’s an old building. It has it’s problems.”
<b>THE REAL PROBLEM,</b> she said, was that those couches kept heat from warming the whole room. “If you don’t allow for the venting of the air, it’s going to be blocked: all the heat goes into the furniture, rather than the air.”
Compounding the problem, she said, was the fact that some Tyrol renters come across as uncooperative. “Tenants there are kind of hard-headed,” said Peterson.
Resident manager Harold Lapham agreed. “Some of the tenants want 80 degrees, and we can’t give it to them,” said Lapham, who has lived and worked at Tyrol Hills for 16 years.
“Most of the time, a certain few just call the county to stir up trouble,” he added. “A majority of the tenants don’t complain.”
<b>MANY TENANTS MAY</b> not be able to, said Jo Ann Cubbage, chief of the county’s housing services division, which handles landlord-tenant disputes.
“In a lot of complexes where there are problems, we find we have few complaints, because tenants may not be the original leaseholders, there may be overcrowding,” she said. “There may be a variety of reasons why they choose not to tell the landlord. They don’t want to draw attention, and the problems get worse.”
Those problems are more likely to crop up in older buildings that have not been renovated, she said. “As the building becomes older, there are more likely to be recurring problems with heat and hot water,” said Cubbage.
Older buildings like Tyrol Hills, smaller apartment complexes dating from the post-War boom years, make up much of the affordable housing stock in south Arlington, although Cubbage notes that many other complexes along Columbia Pike do not have the same problems.
Still, residents of those complexes, often immigrants from Africa or Latin America, say the same thing when Carbone tells them to take their problems to management or to county inspectors.
“They say, ‘I am paying $800 and I don’t want my rent to go up.’ They’d rather have low rent and deal with the conditions,” she said. “The only places in Arlington where you can get that rent in Arlington, you do have the same problems.”