Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seniors blame city for being stranded with no elevators
Residents say they waited hours in a building owned by Housing Authority
by Diane Moca

MILWAUKEE – Seniors and disabled adults living at the Arlington Court apartment complex say the City of Milwaukee Housing Authority has ignored their concerns while installing new elevators in the building.

"It's not just an inconvenience. It's a safety issue!" said resident Carl Krysa.

He says each time the elevator doors open, he worries about the ups and downs of the new system that’s left some stranded.

"People need to get to their medications, and they can't; people need to get to their breathing stuff, and they can't. That's serious,” explained Krysa.

But according to Paul Williams, the communications coordinator for the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, "There were no health and safety issues."

Williams says the Housing Authority is proud of the new elevators delivering better service to the tenants in the building.

He said the seniors were grateful to receive "new elevators that are faster, function better and provide new safety mechanisms."

But residents say they’ve been frustrated for months, after management told them new elevators would be installed, with only one operating at a time while workers replaced the other, in a building with 230 tenants, many of them disabled.

"When we had one, I waited an hour and 10 minutes to get on with my scooter,” lamented Lindsay Wilder.

Tenants say the project dragged on until October though they were told it would be done sooner.

"It didn't take longer than expected. As I said, the elevators are two weeks ahead of schedule in terms of completion,” noted Williams.

Residents say the lowest point was the day both new elevators were finally installed and operational: Elevator No. 1 was in place and running, so workers shut down Elevator No. 2 for maintenance.

Residents say disaster struck because Elevator No. 1 stopped working, leaving residents with no working elevator while waiting for a technician to get Elevator No. 1 working again.

Several seniors questioned the wisdom of doing maintenance on an elevator that had been working fine for months as soon as a new, untested elevator was in place.

Williams said "In terms of timing, it was a good time to do maintenance on the second elevator... At some point we have to do maintenance."

Tenants say that maintenance left some wheelchair-bound residents with no ride and a diabetic with no insulin while they were trapped in the lobby with both elevators down for hours.

Nellie Ball recalls the frustration: "The first day it breaks down! Repeatedly! And then on the second day it takes over 3 hours for people to get back to their apartments or down from their apartments!"

But Williams says the Otis elevator company is required to send a repairman within two hours. He also said the residents all know how to contact the public safety team, which is available to help them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He says that team can respond to the building within minutes.

"If there was a health emergency then they could have asked for assistance,” noted Williams.

But Ball says after she got out of a stuck elevator and hobbled down 11 flights of stairs to report it to management, no one came out to fix the elevator.

So after an hour she says residents contacted the public safety team, who told her they couldn't do anything but call Otis and wait.

"We had to sit and wait three hours, and there were people down here sick!" complained resident Mary Holmes.

Arlington Court residents say even when the elevators are operating, they're not working properly, because they don't always line up even with the floor when they stop.

"If I'm walking with my cane, I'm subject to trip over it,” described Wilder.

The Housing Authority said no one reported that problem, but they did send a technician to check on it after CBS 58 brought it to their attention.

Williams also said the elevators stopped working because residents were not following new safety rules – not because the machines kept breaking down.

He said the city could have done a better job of communicating the elevators' new features before they were installed.

The Housing Authority says the new safety features cause the elevator to temporarily cease if the weight limit is exceeded. The safety mechanisms also cause an elevator to completely shut down – until a repairman arrives to reset it – if the doors are held open too long or if the doors bump something in their path three times in a row as they are trying to close.

"There were some instances of both elevators being down at the same time, and they were addressed appropriately,” responded Williams. “The elevator should be functioning... and it is functioning now."

But even after several days without a shut-down, residents say they are still concerned they are going to get the shaft whenever they take a ride.

"It's there in your mind now. Even if it happens or doesn't happen, it's there,” noted Ball.

If you have an issue you'd like us to investigate, send an email to dmoca@cbs58.com.