Columbus forms subcommittee to help residents at the Villas

Mike Wolanin | The Republic An exterior view of the Villas Apartments in Columbus, Ind., Monday, April 29, 2024.

City officials have formed a subcommittee tasked with helping nearly 100 low-income residents, including some who are elderly or disabled, who are facing displacement from their homes after their landlord announced plans to close an affordable housing complex next year.

The affordable housing complex, the Villas apartments at 4101 Waycross Drive, will close shortly after April 2025, when property owner BHI Senior Living’s contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that subsidizes rent for the residents of the 99-unit complex is set to expire.

The subcommittee will work under the Mayor’s Advisory Council for Safe and Affordable Housing and meet weekly to identify the questions and needs of the Villas’ residents and help strategize on ways different agencies could help address those needs, officials said.

The group was established during the advisory council’s meeting this week and initially includes representatives from the Columbus Housing Authority, United Way, Thrive Alliance, Columbus Township Trustee Ben Jackson, Human Services, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., Mental Health Matters, a representative from the local landlord’s association, among others.

BHI Senior Living has agreed to have a representative sit in on some of the meetings, officials said.

“There is going to be a core group that is going to focus on what we can do for (the residents),” said Eric Frey, the city’s executive director of administration. “…I suspect that more (organizations) will come into the fold as we start to reach out and start these regular meetings.”

Currently, there are 96 people living in the apartment complex, including many residents who are elderly, disabled and in some cases, both.

As city officials and local nonprofits and organizations continue to meet and search for solutions for the residents of the Villas, the mood at the apartment complex is “worrisome,” with “very shook up elderly people everyday here wondering what will happen to them,” according to one resident.

“It’s pretty grim for us,” said Katherine Trujillo, who has lived at the Villas for about two years. “…We’re just scared. We’re very scared. …We just want the community to know what a crisis (this is).”

“We have a paralyzed guy that has been here for a long time,” Trujillo added. “He’s paralyzed from the neck down and he’s in a special kind of wheelchair. We have a man with no legs in a wheelchair. …There are people that are 80 years old, people on oxygen, people that have horrible diabetes.”

Trujillo said she and other residents have been provided with a list of apartment complexes in Columbus that may accept Section 8 but have not been able to find vacancies. Residents are also searching in other communities, but to no avail.

In one instance, residents contacted a local apartment complex that accepts Section 8 to inquire about vacancies, with staff telling them, “‘You must be from the Villas. The phone is ringing off the hook.’ ”

At the same time, many residents at the Villas do not have the money to submit rental applications or pay someone to pack up their belongings, rent a truck and move elsewhere, Trujillo said.

“When you get 100 people out of a building, and they have nowhere to go, nowhere to live, families that live across the United States, they don’t have money to move,” Trujillo said. “…There are not 100 low-income places to live. You have to be on (waiting) lists for years to get in.”

“Nobody here can afford $1,000 or more for rent,” Trujillo added. “People here, some of them are probably paying nearly nothing to $200 (for rent).”

For Trujillo, this will be the second time that she has been displaced from an affordable housing complex after property owners decided to no longer participate in federally subsidized housing programs.

Trujillo, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, previously lived in an affordable housing complex in New Mexico that closed after the property owners sold off the complex.

After that, she lived with her daughters in California until she learned of an opening at the Villas. She packed up all her belongings, shipped her car to Columbus and moved across the country.

Now, she said her family is “devastated,” and she does not know what she will do.

“I just can’t afford (to move) anymore,” Trujillo said. “I spent my life savings moving into this apartment. …I can’t afford to get up and move everything again.”