The Slidell City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to condemn a Pontchartrain Drive apartment building that has been shuttered since last Thursday, when fire officials deemed it a hazard, forcing 14 families to move out with little notice on a rainy night.
The building will be demolished in seven days.
Chad Duffaut, a spokesman for St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 1, said the building is a safety hazard. In response to questions, he told the council that the decision to cut power to a building immediately is not one that’s taken lightly.
Joe France, a building inspector for the city, outlined other problems with the Westchester Apartments, including pooling on the roof, which he said could cause the roof to collapse, and the lack of grounding wires, which presents a further fire hazard. Water could be seen dripping from main feeder lines during an inspection Friday, he said.
Tenants, who were left to scramble for new housing when they were ordered to leave, expressed dismay to the City Council.
LaToya Thornton, who said she had lived in the complex since 2008, said it was prone to flooding and other woes, including sewage backup, lead paint, mold and bats. At one time, a pool full of stagnant water was covered by a trampoline cover, she said.
She tearfully described what happened Thursday as a Katrina-like moment that left her and her children with nothing.
“We deserve justice,’’ she said, noting that she had submitted pictures of the complex’s problems to the city in the past, with no results.
Erica Thompson complained about the lack of services for the former residents, something she said was inexcusable after Hurricane Katrina. “I needed someplace to stay like yesterday,’’ she said.
Michele Barrere Tymkiw said the apartments flooded as long ago as when she was in high school in the 1980s. More recently, she said, the blighted building was a detriment to the neighborhood, which suffered flooding in Katrina.
Her children attend Our Lady of Lourdes School, which she said is trying to maintain its enrollment. Prospective families must drive by the building, which has garbage spilling out of the dumpster, she said.
Richard Reardon, who represented several homeowners groups, said the apartments’ absentee owner was the reason for the problems.
That owner, Kevin Stephens, a doctor and former New Orleans health director, was not at the hearing.
His lawyer, Evan Howell, pleaded with the City Council to wait 30 days, saying the property is now unoccupied and that it would be fenced and the grounding problem fixed. He said he had a letter from a structural engineer saying there is no threat of collapse.
Several audience members also asked for more time. Belinda Parker Brown, a community organizer, said a rush to demolish might hamper efforts to get to the bottom of what caused the problems.
Councilman Sam Caruso asked City Attorney Bryan Haggerty if there was any advantage to be gained by waiting 30 days, and Haggerty said there was not. He described the building as a safety hazard, an assessment shared by France.
While Howell cited woes like Katrina and his client’s illness as reasons for the property’s deterioration, Councilman Sam Abney said someone should have been checking on the property.