Yale Park Apartments evacuate, stranding refugees


This is one of the many fuze boxes in the Yale Park Apartments that shows exposed wires which is a violation of city code. Photo by Dominick Bartels

Dominick Bartels, News Writer

Between September 14 and 20, the City of Omaha Planning Department received more than 90 complaints against the Yale Park Apartments.

According to City Councilman Pete Festersen, Kay Anderson, landlord, owner and tenant of the Yale Park Apartments will have between 30-90 days to make the required repairs or criminal charges will be filed.

Due to the large number of complaints, the city launched a full-scale investigation and evacuation of the property. Since the investigation has begun, more than 2,500 violations of the city code have been recorded and the city committed to hiring two more code inspectors.

Anderson was frustrated by the extent of the code violations, on “petty things” such as sink faucets.

“Is there anything wrong with [the faucet]? No. So why should I have to fix it?” Anderson continued.

Of the tenants of the apartments, there were 178 Omaha Public School (OPS) students, 5 of which attend North. Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) the names of these students and their families cannot be disclosed.

Omaha Public Schools (OPS) was notified by the city a few days before the inspection began. On the day of the inspection the city deemed the apartments unsafe and shut them down.

In response, the OPS Department of Student and Community Service met the students at the apartments after school to be sure they had a parent or guardian to take them.

These plants are part of the community garden outside of the Yale Park Apartments. Since the building has been evacuated the plants have overgrown.
Photo by Dominick Bartels

With help from Heartland Family Service (HFS), OPS found and put the affected families up in two temporary shelters. From there, HFS will help the families find new, permanent housing.

Lisa Utterback, executive director at OPS, assured that all OPS students affected will be allowed to remain at their current school with transportation provided, despite address changes.

“Our first priority was to ensure that students received a steady mode of transportation to and from school as families transitioned to (new housing),” Utterback said.

Omaha Public Schools Foundation and the Superintendent’s office organized various fundraisers to help the families affected.

Through these fundraisers, each student received a $200 gift certificate to Walmart or Target to buy new clothes or school supplies. All families were also provided new blankets, pillows and bedding.

Buffet Middle School ran a sock drive and Burke High School collected coats to donate to the affected families, many of whom, were refugees from Thailand and Myanmar.

Anderson claims that social workers came to the apartments to work with the “refugee” tenants when he and social workers got into a slight, verbal altercation because they were asking “so many questions” about the condition of the apartments.

After the argument, Anderson was notified by the city that 96 complaints had been filed about his apartments.

However, Anderson claims, once he received the complaints from the city, there were only “about 70” and they were all addressed to him, not the city.

“I can’t fight the city, they have too much power, too much money,” Anderson said, “In the end, they are probably going to get their way and [Yale Park Apartments] are going to get torn down and we’re going to lose 100 units of affordable housing.”

The City of La Vista passed a bill requiring all landlords to register with the city to allow for easier and stricter code enforcement. As the Yale Park issue arised, Omaha is now considering doing the same thing.

In response, Anderson said that this is Omaha’s way to “gentrify” North Omaha and get the “poor people out.”

“They can’t just get rid of the low-income people in Omaha, that would not be politically correct. Cities are coming in and writing such strict housing codes, that you end up tearing down all of the [affordable] housing,” Anderson continued, “If you tear down every place like this in America, where are the poor people going to live?”

Festersen assures that former tenants are receiving assistance as needed.

“The incident at the Yale Apartments should be unacceptable to all of us,” Festersen said, “Everyone should have access to safe, affordable housing in our city.”