Sun Sets on the Boulevard

The disabled residents of the Boulevard Apartments don't know why they're being asked to move or where they might end up. And HUD and Paraquad aren't saying much.

For Paraquad, whose mission has been to encourage disabled people to live full, independent, productive lives in the community, the Boulevard Apartments was the first and last real-estate venture of its kind. And Paraquad founder Max Starkloff concedes that the notion of concentrating disabled people in a single building conflicts with the organization's own philosophy. "Segregation is something we don't like," he says. Paraquad's board of directors includes Ray Hartmann, founder and editorial chairman of The Riverfront Times.

Starkloff says little housing was available for disabled people who wanted to live independently in the late 1970s, and the Boulevard Apartments met that need. "The sad part is that for many people in the late '70s, this was the only choice. Twenty years later, there isn't much more." He says that more than anything, the dilemma faced by Boulevard Apartments tenants underscores how little progress the St. Louis metro area has made in terms of providing integrated, accessible housing for the disabled. When HUD and Paraquad first began discussing closing the building, both made attempts to find alternative living arrangements and found that little was available.

Money generated by rental income from the Boulevard Apartments, after the project pays its bills, is supposed to go into a residual account that can pay for improvements to the building. Paraquad officials say HUD has raised questions about the amount of money that has been placed in that account over time, but Callow says the dispute is over "a few tens of thousands of dollars" over the course of 30 years. HUD officials say that because the agency is in negotiations with Paraquad over the building's fate, it "would not be appropriate to get into" the financial questions that have been raised by the federal agency about the Boulevard Apartments.

Kathy Lewis, president of the Boulevard Apartments tenants' association: "We're not getting the full answer from anybody. We, as residents, are sticking with each other and trying to fight."
Jennifer Silverberg
Kathy Lewis, president of the Boulevard Apartments tenants' association: "We're not getting the full answer from anybody. We, as residents, are sticking with each other and trying to fight."

Starkloff says the building never generated enough money to make substantial improvements, and, for the past 10 years, Paraquad has tried to find a way to get additional funding to improve the outdoor catwalks -- leftovers from the building's days as a motel -- so they would not be slick in bad weather. "We have not been able to get the money," he says. "We have worked hard to maintain the building with very little money, to keep it running and to keep it safe. That building is not the kind of building that should be in this kind of climate."

Callow estimates it would cost $3 million-$5 million to do the type of gut rehab HUD has suggested is needed to upgrade the Boulevard Apartments and says Paraquad does not have that kind of money to invest in the building. In 1999, the Boulevard Apartments brought in about $600,000 in revenue; Paraquad financial records indicate $545,000 was spent on mortgage interest, utilities, management fees and other costs. The same year, Paraquad had $1.8 million outstanding on its 38-year mortgage loan from HUD.

The tenants wish someone would step in and sort through the mess and somehow find a way to let them remain in their homes. Lewis says she and others in the association "like Paraquad, but it seems like they contradict what they say. They say one thing and then they say something else, so we really don't know where they stand.... What if they could sell the building to another company that can still operate the apartments? Whether or not they want to keep holding onto the building is their choice, but for us, to move out is wrong." Callow says Paraquad would be willing to sell to someone interested in operating the apartments, but the buyer would have to be another nonprofit acceptable to HUD or someone with the means to buy out the mortgage. And he adds: "The challenge the other organization or group would face would be the same we face, and HUD faces, which is the cost of rehab."

The tenants do wonder whether their building's prime location is at least partly fueling the push to move them out. The building is across the street from Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "We are sitting at a choice location at the corner of Forest Park and Euclid," Lewis says.

BJC Health System, which owns the hospital, says it hasn't expressed an interest in buying the building. Callow agrees the property is valuable but dismisses any notion that Paraquad has an underlying motive for closing the Boulevard Apartments. "Nobody has expressed an interest in using the property for anything else," he says. "It is sitting in the looming shadow of BJC, so people on the street draw their own conclusions. But the reality is, if we weren't being pressed by the institution that holds our mortgage, HUD, we would still be struggling to make due. We're not real-estate developers or speculators."

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