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Robert Wise, the attorney for Knudson Housing Partners who answered The Pitch's questions on behalf of the building's management, says Scott left without notice because he was "in homeless mode." Wise denies that the building's management took Scott's keys.
The St. Regis is a 10-story red-brick building with a stately, white-columned front porch. Residents swipe a key card across a sensor to open the front door. The manager's office is immediately to the left, across from a sunny common area furnished with couches and coffee tables. The first floor is so clean, a visitor might never guess that the upper floors have been plagued by roaches, as HUD inspectors noted in a report from their most recent visit in January 2009.
In the building's elevator, two middle-aged tenants happily greet a tenant they call the Candyman. The elderly fellow pretends that his pockets are empty, but the couple aren't fooled. They cup their outstretched hands, and the Candyman gives each a fistful of cellophane-wrapped gumballs and hard candy.
When the elevator doors open again, it becomes apparent that bumping into the Candyman might be the brightest part of these residents' day. The building has 85 units, and the door to each is painted an institutional gray and marked with dull brass numbers. A black streak runs the length of this floor's dingy hallway carpet where something — furniture? leaking garbage bags? — had been dragged down the hall.
The couple live together, and HUD pays 90 percent of their rent. St. Regis tenants don't pay for their utilities. In the 11 years they've lived in the St. Regis, they've accumulated a steady list of grievances, few of which any manager there has ever addressed. For one thing, they say, the apartments rarely undergo maintenance, let alone improvements. The couple's floor is blanketed with a patchwork of smaller rugs, a failed attempt to cover carpet stains that were there when they moved in. They've been without a working refrigerator for weeks. They've called HUD to complain, but HUD's people could only advise them to call the Council Bluffs, Iowa, offices of Knudson Housing Partners, which has managed the building since 1994. Knudson hired McCray in 2003. The couple say she hasn't posted Knudson's correct number anywhere in the building.
All of the current St. Regis tenants interviewed for this story asked The Pitch not to print their names. They're afraid that speaking on the record will attract McCray's vindictiveness. In order to move to another HUD-assisted building in the city, they would need a letter of recommendation from the management of their former residence. One resident says, "God help you if you want a recommendation from Michelle."
Most of the people living at the St. Regis already feel pretty forsaken. Residents find their way here through a case manager working with a public or a private agency, such as a homeless shelter, a ministry, a food pantry or a mental-health provider.
The most desirable Section 8 buildings are also the most selective and can have a waiting list that's three or four years long. Several local case managers say they depend on the St. Regis because it's one of the rare complexes that will accept their toughest clients — those with criminal records, mental-health issues or spotty rental histories.
"I can tell you for sure that I know many people who would be on the streets without Michelle," says a case manager who asked not to be named. (Many agencies instruct their employees to turn down interviews.) "She [McCray] will listen to me when I say, 'I know this guy has been kicked out before, but he's turned his life around and he needs a chance.' That's the other side of the story."