Some of the residents at three boarding houses on South Broad Street were charged rent to live in a space underneath a stairwell and were forced to wash dishes in a bathtub next to a toilet, Mobile Police Department (MPD) attorney Wanda Rahman told members of the Mobile City Council Tuesday, as she described living conditions there.
“I do not believe the owner will be proactive in any way, other than collecting rent,” she said. “If you can’t provide people with just the basics, that’s a problem.”
The comments were part of a public hearing to revoke the business license of the boarding house owners, Dharam and Inderjit Pannu. The council unanimously voted to revoke the license and shut down the three boarding houses at 259, 261 and 263 South Broad Street.
In addition to some of the “terrible” conditions described by Rahman, Dharam Pannu has been arrested this year for attempting to bribe a city fire marshal, MPD Capt. Patrick Sanders told councilors.
The houses have also been a constant drain on police resources, MPD Special Investigations Coordinator
Capt. Paul Prine told councilors. From January 2016 to May of this year, officers responded to 740 calls for service that resulted in 74 criminal complaints and 27 arrests, he said.
When a 500-foot radius of the buildings is included, Prine said, the total calls for service jumps up to 1,395. If that’s expanded to a 1,000-foot radius, the calls jump to 2,590, he said.
To give councilors an idea of the drain on resources, Prine said if an officer spent only 30 minutes of his or her time on each of the 740 complaints, which is a conservative estimate, that equates to 370 hours, or nine total weeks of work.
“I believe it has surpassed the ability of the owner to deal with these issues,” Prine told councilors.
MPD officer David Condit, a member of the asset forfeiture unit, told councilors that during the time Prine had mentioned about 78 part-one crimes, including robberies, assaults and burglaries took place.
In addition to those part-one crimes, Sanders told councilors the MPD did drug buys of marijuana, crack cocaine, powder cocaine and spice on eight different occasions at the locations in question. Police responded to a third-degree assault for a man who had been beaten up while sitting on his porch, Sanders said.
Police also executed two search warrants in 2017 and responded to a robbery of a resident there in 2018. In all, the calls and police actions documented since 2016 took up five three-ringed binders, which officers showed to councilors.
The MPD is working with the Homeless Coalition of the Gulf Coast to find shelter for any residents displaced by the action. Rahman recommended the revocation go into effect in a month, giving residents a proper amount of notice.
In a pre-conference meeting, Council Vice President Levon Manzie, who represents the area where the houses sit, pushed his colleagues to buck council procedure and vote on the revocation the same day as the public hearing.
In comments after the vote, Manzie said his heart goes out to anyone displaced, but that the action had to be taken. He pointed to the five big binders while making his comments.
“This has been a longstanding problem for a long time … ,” Manzie said. “I would like these licenses revoked as quickly as possible. To see these five notebooks nearly full from the actions taken at these properties, it’s ridiculous.”
As for the living conditions, Manzie said any owner of any property that would subject residents to those standards should have their business licenses revoked as well.
“Nobody should have to live in those conditions,” he said.
Residents of the nearby Oakleigh Garden District applauded the decision by the council. Among them was
Julia Carroll, daughter of former District 2 Councilman William Carroll.
Carroll, a student at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, who lives across the street from the Pannu’s properties, told councilors that growing up there she could not play or do anything outside and instead would go to friends’ houses.
Kirk Mattei, president of the Oakleigh Garden District Association, thanked the council for the action.
In other business, the council delayed a public hearing and vote on a rezoning to allow a veterinary clinic in a traditional black Spring Hill neighborhood.
The hearing has now been scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15. Sand Town residents have received flyers promoting a community meeting on the projected hearing slated for Wednesday, Oct. 2, from 5:50 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Residents are opposed to the relocation plans of Spring Hill Animal Clinic on property currently owned by St. Ignatius Catholic Church because they would prefer the property remain residential and not be turned commercial. Barbara Smith, president of the Sand Town Community Action Group, said in a previous interview that residents are concerned over noise from animals being boarded at the facility.
Dr. Mary Edmonds, who owns the clinic, said during a previous interview that the business is moving because it needs more space and she assured residents the animals being boarded would not be out at night, or during long stretches during the day.
While Smith criticized developers for choosing the Sand Town property as the site of the new clinic, Edmonds defended the move saying only a very limited number of parcels were available to buy.
Although the city’s planning staff recommended the rezoning for denial, the Planning Commission approved it. The City Council has final approval on all rezoning applications.
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