“I’m taking care of the world!”
That’s what AJ Pokorny, owner and landlord of the 27 rental units condemned by the city of Wilmington’s Department of Licenses and Inspections Monday on the back of 372 issued code violations, dismissively shouted Wednesday when he was asked if he was providing financial resources for housing and storage for the residents who are now displaced.
A partial building collapse over the weekend in an alleyway between two buildings along North Adams Street led to follow up inspections and the discovery of even greater issues both internally and externally on multiple buildings there owned by Pokorny.
Before he jumped in his truck and fled the scene of the condemned units along North Adams Street when financial reimbursement was brought up, Pokorny did allege the city seemed to be placing hurdles in front of him by wanting to have him complete repairs in a specific order–namely, ensuring the structural integrity of the buildings as a whole before addressing internal issues.
“I’ve got to get this stuff done, and I almost feel like the city’s fighting me,” Pokorny said Wednesday. “I got a call from DEHAP and everybody’s in some place. They’ve got the nicest people on Earth. You know where I’ve got to go? My structural engineer, he finally called me, and the city won’t let me get anything started. You know, I’ve got plumbers lined up, all kinds of people, but until I get that–that’s the most important–let me go do that.”
At the units themselves, where a single handyman could be seen carrying buckets of tools into the units and occasionally emerging to grab a necessary item, some of the residents who hadn’t made it back to the buildings Tuesday 24 hours after being removed were trickling in Wednesday.
One of those residents, Beverly Whye, was the very first voice of public support for Pokorny who spoke to WDEL since this ordeal began on Monday, May 16, 2022. While she said he’d be receiving a bill from her, she also expressed forgiveness and said she could see he was trying.
“We’re not [being put] up by him, and I’m definitely going to give him a receipt because we’re paying out of our pockets,” Whye said. “But when [my husband] was laid off–over the winter, then during the summertime–he’d let our rent be late sometimes. He’s doing the best he can and he has been. You know, people can call him a ‘slumlord’ all they want, but we all don’t get along with our landlords when we already paying rent. This is a wake up call. This is a wake up call to everybody on the block.”
But Whye shrugged when asked if she thought, despite his kindness on rent delays, Pokorny should have also kept up with residents requests to repair things within their apartments, especially now given that the accumulation of the disrepair has led to her standing outside, without a residence to call her own.
Three individuals who declined to be interviewed on the record said, in separate conversations, something to the effect that Pokorny doesn’t care about residents necessarily, only their money. It’s a sentiment with which Sharita Sewell and Lanita Brooks agree. They are established community members whose brother lived in one of the North Adam Street units, and Brooks liked landlords like Pokorny to a necessary evil. She said for all the negative things about how he handles his properties, he offers low-income residents of the city something no other landlord in the city does: easy-access affordable housing. She talked about her brother’s leaky ceiling.
“Eventually, while [my brother] was in there, over the winter the ceiling started getting bad. AJ promised to get that fixed as soon as the weather broke, but it hasn’t been done yet,” she said. “Of course, when L&I and the city went in, they saw that part too. But a lot of people is putting up with all the issues that AJ had because they don’t have anywhere to go. They can’t just up-and-move, and get approved for something else.”
The building of I-95 through downtown Wilmington sliced several Wilmington neighborhoods apa…
But the sisters are also curious about what they allege is the city’s sudden, dubious concern for the residents in these buildings. To understand their curiosity, one needs to understand there’s a plan floating around since last year looking to cap I-95 with green space, including right along that 8th Street block, in order to connect the Cool Spring, Quaker Hill, Trinity Vicinity, Hilltop, Tilton Park and West Center City neighborhoods.
“The city has known about AJ for over 20 years,” Sewell said. “They’ve know about these apartments forever. And the violations. It’s all documented how many times L&I had to come out. Now, the apartments are a concern to the city?”
“Why? Because I believe there’s an agenda behind it,” Brooks said. “They know there’s no way possible that AJ’s going to get all that work done in a certain amount of time.”
She said the implication is that the city could look to acquire the property if he can’t complete the work in a timely manner, which might ultimately help with their development plans. Whatever their goals, in the meantime while it all potentially plays out:
“That means these residents will still be homeless at the end of the day,” Brooks said. “They will not be able to find an affordable apartment. Nowhere.”
Pokorny is nothing if not consistent in his alleged infractions, and they extend beyond the material to the interpersonal way he can reportedly harass tenants or disregard their rights.
WDEL visited several of Pokorny’s other properties he owns around the city in different neighborhoods, including Trolley Square and Happy Valley. We were invited in to see the conditions of some occupied residences by residents who requested to remain anonymous out of fear of repercussions. We also spoke with previous residents who declined to be interviewed but shared photos of the interior of their units that caused them to ultimately leave his properties.
No less than three women alleged to WDEL that Pokorny would enter their living space without any kind of notice whatsoever, regardless of whether they were inside the unit at the time. This claim is corroborated in a publicly available online review of Pokorny as a landlord.
One current resident gave a tour of their unit, showing off a leaky ceiling, a rear door painted over that had trouble opening, a front door through which gaps and cracks were thick enough to view the outside, and front windows they’d been lucky enough to discover prior to any emergency had been screwed shut.
The city on Wednesday provided an update on what they were doing for the displace residents. Mayor Mike Purzycki said the residents from all 7 of the buildings found no longer fit for human habitation are being housed.
Of those displaced, 19 are being housed and fed at New Castle County Hope Center on the city’s dime while 11 are in a local hotel and being fed by the Food Bank of Delaware on the state’s dime. The remainder has sought out shelter with family or friends.
Any individual who was impacted by the Adams Street property closure should contact Jen Prado, Wilmington’s Constituent Services Director, at 302.576.2494. The city will also be providing guidance on housing and legal aid resources for those affected at the Wilmington Office of Emergency Management at 22 South Heald Street in Southbridge on Thursday, May 19, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.