Flint, MI—A beige sofa, paint cans, empty beer bottles and at least seven mattresses lay scattered among the single-car garages off of Bradley Avenue in Flint, Mich. on a mid-August afternoon.
The mattress count is estimated because some of the garages are too coated in discarded clothing, bagged and unbagged garbage, old insulation and other debris to see if a mattress is somewhere inside.
“That place is a junkyard,” said Nina Hornsby, who lives across the street from Sunset Village Apartments, the vacant apartment complex the garages used to serve. “I try my best not to even look.”
Hornsby said she once lived in Sunset Village herself but moved out about two and a half years ago after experiencing electrical and heat problems under the complex’s former ownership.
From her new home on Pencombe Place, she had a front-row seat as Sunset Village was condemned in early 2021, vacated, and then sold to a new owner by that July.
Now, over a year later, Hornsby and other Glendale Hills residents are dealing with the outcomes of the site’s long-term vacancy: trespassing, illegal dumping, pests and rodents.
What’s more, said Sharon Bradley, president of the Glendale Hills Neighborhood Association, not only did the former owner leave the area with a dilapidated housing complex, they left over $950,000 in unpaid water bills behind, too.
Sunset Village Apartments is a 169-unit, five-building housing complex near Mott Park and Kettering University in Flint’s Glendale Hills neighborhood.
It was condemned in February 2021 after city inspectors found that residents were living without heat and water.
That condemnation status required the property to be vacated until it was brought back into compliance, which reportedly meant a laundry list of repairs, clean-up, and fumigation needs for then-owner Flint 770 Investment LLC.
Some of that work seemed to start within the next few months, said Glendale Hills resident Patty Warner at the time. However, in July 2021, city records show that a new group called 352 Bradley Ave LLC bought the property for roughly $3.5 million in an “arms length” sale—meaning the buyer and seller have no relationship with one another.
Since then, residents have watched as people continue to trespass, use the complex’s garages as a dumping ground for old furniture and trash, and, more recently, treat the buildings’ brick exteriors as a canvas.
“The graffiti is new,” said Bradley on Aug. 11, 2022. “I think that happened within the last week.”
Bradley said she met with a representative from MG Capital Partners, the New York-based development group behind 352 Bradley Ave LLC, in early spring. At that point, she said, she was hopeful Sunset Village was on the upswing.
“He showed me videos of a walkthrough he did to show other people,” Bradley said. “They’ve already started renovating buildings, and actually, they looked really nice.”
According to city records, 352 Bradley Ave LLC and its contractor have pulled permits to complete interior demolition and begin renovations on Buildings #2 and #3 of the five-building complex.
David Shebiro, the representative from MG Capital Partners to whom Bradley spoke, told Flint Beat he felt it was too early to talk about the company’s plans for redeveloping Sunset Village.
However, Shebiro did offer that the development group has been listening to resident concerns and trying to keep the site clear of refuse in the meantime.
“I keep on cleaning the garages across the street and blocking them,” Shebiro said. “And they keep on throwing garbage there.”
Since residents’ complaints were publicized on a local news station in May, the driveways to Sunset Village’s garages have been blocked by large cement barriers to mitigate further dumping attempts.
It’s a start, residents agreed, but people still find ways to dump garbage in the garages or smaller items in the adjacent parking lots. Plus, Hornsby noted, the pests that make homes in the refuse aren’t phased by the new concrete barriers.
“I think the mice problem got worse,” Hornsby said of Sunset Village since its closure. “I really do.”
While MG Capital Partners tries to keep Sunset Village free of garbage, rodents and break-ins during renovation, there is another problem some Glendale Hills residents believe should be solved by the city of Flint.
“I think there’s two stories here,” Bradley said, having already outlined Sunset Village’s ongoing dumping concerns. The other, she said, is the property’s outstanding water bills.
“As of April 21, , there are water bills owing on that property in that amount,” Bradley said, tapping her finger on a hand-written note—“$962,105.61”—on the top page of a stack of papers.
The papers, printed in mid-April ahead of a meeting with city officials and the complex’s new owner, are outstanding water and sewer bills from Sunset Village, publicly available through Flint’s property look-up.
The unpaid accounts are listed in the former owner’s name, “FLINT 770 INVT/MIAMI NADLAN LLC,” and according to city officials, the total amount owed as of August 10, 2022 is up to $981,648.55.
When asked what the city is doing to collect on those overdue payments, city of Flint Treasurer Amanda Trujillo said in an email: “A default judgment against the prior owners of Sunset Village was entered in April 2021. The property has since been sold to new owners.”
A default judgment allows the city to legally pursue collection of Sunset’s unpaid water bills from Flint 770 Investment LLC, but Trujillo did not indicate what more has been done to collect that debt since the judgment was issued.
Instead, Trujillo said in the same email, “The City is currently engaged in discussions with the new owners to resolve this matter.”
Flint Beat could not reach Flint 770 Investment LLC’s listed agent, Hagay Kibiri, for comment.
Shebiro, representing Sunset Village’s new ownership, did not wish to speak about the property beyond responding to residents’ dumping concerns at this time.
“I would like for people, the public in general, to know that those water bills are still owing,” Bradley said. “Why did [the city] allow this to go on like this?”
While nearly $1 million in outstanding water bills seems large, Sunset’s debt represents a small part of the city of Flint’s roughly $49 million in outstanding water bills.
According to Trujillo, of that $49 million, a total of $2,846,633.65 comes from inactive commercial accounts like that of Sunset Village.
The majority—more than $42 million—comes from unpaid residential accounts, and the rest— nearly $3.8 million—from unpaid active commercial accounts.
While some residents of Glendale Hills continue to question the city’s lack of collection on Sunset’s unpaid water bills and MG Capital’s progress on renovations, they did temper their upset with aspirations for the future.
Bradley said she felt “very discouraged” after the graffiti appeared on some of Sunset’s buildings this month, but she hopes MG Capital Partners will ultimately follow through on renovating the complex since they’ve already spent money on building permits and initial work, like demolition and re-roofing.
“I mean, I don’t think that somebody that’s not serious is going to do that,” Bradley said.
Other residents, like Hornsby, said that though they’ve adjusted to the dumping, broken glass and boarded up windows on the Sunset Village property, they’d still like that to change.
“It would be really nice if they could get it up and going,” Hornsby said, turning her back to the vacant apartments across the street from her home. “I don’t know what it would cost, though.”