Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

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Low-income residents pushed closer to streets

Donald Avery, a 45-year-old with asthma, has lived since March with a lack of air conditioning, sharing the warm temperatures in his apartment with bedbugs.

But his apartment, one of 110 at the former Moulin Rouge hotel on West Bonanza Road, has been home.

After Sunday, it won't be - not by his choice. And with his limited income ruling out most of Las Vegas' available apartments, Avery is worried that he could wind up on the streets.

At the Moulin Rouge, Avery is not alone in that fear.

The Moulin Rouge, one of the shrinking pool of places available in the Las Vegas Valley that take Clark County social service rental vouchers - worth $400 a month and Avery's sole source of income - will close Sunday.

After county and Las Vegas officials found substandard living conditions in numerous apartments, the owners - the Moulin Rouge Development Corp. - decided to evict all tenants, close the complex and make repairs.

Chauncey Moore, chief executive, would not comment on how long the repairs might take or whether their cost would raise rents.

"But I can say we've been charging a lot less than the average rent here, which is $847," Moore said, referring to reports on the region's average rents released earlier this week.

The immediate effect, however, is clear: An unknown number of people will join the ranks of the valley's homeless, and there will be one less place for the poor to live.

The situation underlines the plight of those who can afford only the bottom end of affordable housing - people living off Social Security benefits, minimum wage jobs or county vouchers.

Jim Shadrick, code enforcement inspector for Las Vegas, said he has seen at least 100 apartments renting at $300 to $600 close in the last six months - either because he shut them down, or, as in the case of the Moulin Rouge, because he identified problems to property owners, who closed the apartments themselves.

Shadrick visited the site after county health officials completed a formal inspection in July.

"It was a lot worse than what we normally see," said Herb Sequera, environmental health supervisor.

Linda Lera-Randle El, director of a nonprofit organization that works with the homeless called Straight From the Streets, said the loss of the Moulin Rouge's apartments will be acutely felt by those with few other places to turn.

"In the social services world, (the Moulin Rouge closing) is tantamount to the Bellagio closing down in the world of tourism," she said. "It's always a big deal, and there's never any preparation to help these people find replacement housing."

The Moulin Rouge's impending closure, she added, reveals a Catch-22 facing the poor and the homeless.

"One side says, 'Get them off the street; stick them somewhere,' " she said. "But where can we house them? In third-rate housing, and then they get kicked out."

Next door to the Moulin Rouge apartments, Las Vegas officials have been inspecting some of about 160 apartments known as Desert Breeze this week, producing another list of repairs for Moore's company.

Between the two blocks of apartments sits the storied curlicue sign for the Moulin Rouge, the same one that gained a place in local history when it opened in 1955, serving whites and blacks together for the first time in its casino. The casino had long been closed, and a 2003 fire gutted the building.

After Moore's company bought the property, he announced in 2004 that a 500-room hotel and 40,000-square-foot casino would rise from the ashes.

Although Moore announced then that the first stage of the hotel's construction would occur in 2006, the sign is the only thing there now. Moore refused to comment on where the hotel and casino plans stand.

Across a parking lot from the sign, tenants at Desert Breeze pay $600 per month for a studio apartment.

A few Desert Breeze residents complained about many of the same issues as those that led to shutting down the Moulin Rouge apartments - no air conditioning, backed-up sewage, bugs.

Shadrick saw exposed wires - an "imminent hazard" - at Desert Breeze on Monday. Moore, though, insists he is "working with the city to make the place decent."

That will be a welcome development to some residents.

Patricia and Donald Williams moved into apartment No. 2073 on Sept. 1, after spending four months in homeless shelters. The two live off his Social Security disability benefits - $840 a month - plus $180 per month in food stamps.

Their time at Desert Breeze has included plumbing problems in the bathroom, leading to brackish water.

"We might as well be on the street, where we took baths from faucets," Patricia Williams said.

George Merrida, who pays $520 a month out of his $640 Social Security check, has had similar problems during his 3 1/2-year stay at Desert Breeze.

Merrida says his apartment did not have heat all winter and had leaks for months that caused mold. He was not aware of how the mold might be affecting his health until Shadrick asked him about it.

"He said, 'Do you ever feel tired?' And I said, 'It's like I'm on drugs or something I can't get my breath and my chest is tightening.' He asked me if I feel better when I go outside. I do. When I go to Wal-Mart, I feel fine. I stay there for five or six hours."

Merrida, a retired electrician, said he had always had problems with his apartment's upkeep.

Still, with his limited income, "I can't find many other places. But at the same time, I'm so depressed and I ask myself, what am I doing here?"

Meanwhile, over at the Moulin Rouge, Avery says he has called about 70 places around town looking for apartments at $400 a month with landlords who accept the county's vouchers.

So far he's had no luck.

"My concern is, I don't want to be on the street," he said. "It seems like we're about to have a bunch of homeless out there."

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