By Kim Morter
Arizona Summer Wildcat
he sordid stories were nauseating. The details of the squalid conditions were horrifying.
And things haven't improved much, according to residents at Christopher City, the UA's family housing complex.
Early this spring, reports came out of the complex at 3401 N. Columbus Blvd. detailing the slum-like conditions that the largely international population was putting up with.
When Saundra Taylor, UA vice president for student affairs, first visited the complex, the main complaints had to do with substandard living conditions.
The primary complaints detailed in local newspapers included roach infestations and heavy chemical pesticides that were ineffective, sewage backups that left bacteria and mold in carpets and may have caused various sicknesses among residents and their children, no thermostats in individual apartments to regulate room temperature, and grounds and facilities in disrepair.
Since those visits, here is what has been changed:
¨Soon after Taylor visited, a carpet committee was formed to visit each unit and determine which ones were most desperately in need of replacement. The carpet committee consists of Thabit Abu-Rass, president of the Christopher City Residents' Council, Michael St. Paul, a resident of the complex, and Christopher City complex manager Martha Castleberry.
Carpeting has now been replaced in 60 of the 356 units, and there is enough carpet left to do another five or 10, Abu-Rass said.
Akram Tamimi, a resident whose children and wife had experienced illnesses 11 months ago, had his carpet replaced in early March. Since then, he said his family has been healthy.
When Tamimi's carpet was pulled up, a roach infestation was found underneath, as was mold and rotted padding that originally had been clean. There were also cracks present in the foundation, allowing water to seep into the carpet and create a musty odor.
Tamimi no longer has what he described as a muddy clay coming up in his vacuum cleaner, nor does he have a problem with roaches anymore.
But a difficulty that the carpet committee faces is the cultural barriers in place among this largely international population, St. Paul said. He told a story of one family whose sewer backed up, but they were too embarrassed to report it because they thought they had caused the problem. They paid an outside company to come and clean the spill.
"What you see in a community like this is very conservative thinking. Many of Christopher City's residents were brought up not to argue," St. Paul said.
¨Each apartment now has an individual thermostat to regulate the temperature that will ultimately save the complex money, Abu-Rass said.
¨Some of the playground equipment was recently repaired. However, the ground is still all dirt and most of the equipment remains in disrepair.
"It (the playground) is a very depressing place for children," Abu-Rass said.
¨Residents had been promised water for irrigation purposes earlier this spring, when nighttime temperatures consistently remained above 50 degrees, said education graduate student and complex resident Denise Hurlburt.
Now that temperatures at night have well surpassed 50 degrees, the water still isn't running. Hurlburt said she was told that the management "is looking into it" when she questioned the delay. Her once-lush front patio is now mostly dirt.
¨Several of the buildings lining Columbus Boulevard have been painted, St. Paul said. In the meantime, he added, basic structural problems in the units, including sewer backups, have not received attention.
And despite the cosmetic changes at Christopher City, the view has not become any more rosy. The uphill battle continues.
In March, a steering committee was formed at Taylor's request in order to prioritize the residents' concerns and develop a series of options for the university to consider in dealing with the future of Christopher City.
The committee will issue the first half of its report to the Office of Student Affairs on June 30. That report is expected to include recommendations on issues of safety, health, and management, said Robert Wrenn, chair of the steering committee.
But an ongoing issue at Christopher City that first emerged at a meeting on March 8 between UA Residence Life officials and Christopher City residents was corruption.
In an anonymous report issued to residents on December 20, 1993, allegations were made of impropriety in the issuance of apartments and the hiring of student workers.
The report states that Chudri Najdawi, an office worker and resident assistant at the complex since 1988, did not meet Christopher City's requirements to be hired for a resident assistant position.
The UA's job description for resident assistants at Christopher City indicates that, among other things, a resident assistant must be a full-time student with a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.
But according to university records, Najdawi was not a student during periods of his employment, nor did he maintain the 2.5 GPA required to be a resident assistant.
According to the report, Najdawi was first employed by Christopher City in 1988. At that time, university records indicate that his cumulative GPA was above 2.5. But according to those records, Najdawi's cumulative GPA never again rose above a 2.4. Several semesters, in fact, Najdawi posted a 0.0 GPA and withdrew a total of three times.
These records do not reflect the awarding of a degree nor full-time (seven credits or more) student status for several for the semesters in question.
According to the report, Najdawi was also allegedly responsible for issuing apartments to friends that weren't students either.
Najdawi could not be reached for comment on this story.
Najdawi held two student jobs at Christopher City, and other workers also apparently were employed in multiple positions, St. Paul said. He said other students were seeking work in the office and elsewhere in the complex, but couldn't find any because of the existing assignments.
Najdawi's contract as resident assistant has been renewed for another year, said Castleberry. His GPA this past semester was 1.5, bringing his cumulative GPA to 2.212.
Castleberry declined to comment further on Najdawi's situation or anything contained in the residents' report.
"The corruption is so blatant, so flagrant. So 'in-our-face,'" Hurlburt said.
Both St. Paul and Hurlburt said they attribute the dismal situation to a lack of enforcement by the Christopher City management.
"The (residents') council has picked up the slack (where the management left off) in many instances," Hurlburt said. "It (the council) has shown more wisdom and creativity (in dealing with problems) than the management ever did."
Reports of the residents' grievances with the management and accusations of corruption have been forwarded to various entities, Hurlburt said. A report of the residents' findings was given to the university controller's office and then to Dr. Taylor's office, with no response, she said.
At about the same time, she said, the report was sent to the Department of Residence Life. The Residents Council (CCRC) was told that the report needed to be issued as a formal complaint if action was to be taken on it, Hurlburt said.
Such a formal complaint was issued to James VanArsdel, director of Residence Life, in March, she said, but the residents are still awaiting a reply.
"We feel like the administration is just weathering out the storm," Hurlburt said. "They're waiting for us to either burn out or graduate and leave."
"We're running our heads against a bunch of bureaucrats while they just sit and laugh at us," she added.
Abu-Rass said he is especially disappointed with Taylor, because she was very involved at the beginning and seemed to be the residents' "only hope."
Taylor said that her role in this whole affair "is to ensure a fair and open process to evaluate all of this." She pointed out that she is still "very much engaged in all of this," even though she said she has not had the opportunity to make appearances at the complex as much as she had previously.
Amid all of these troubles, however, residents are reluctant to leave. For one, apartments at Christopher City are more reasonably priced than others their size around Tucson. A two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment rents for $410 per month. Other units around Tucson of the same size are often upward of $500.
More than that, though, is the sense of community that residents feel at Christopher City. Because of its globally diverse make-up, residents say they are being exposed to a number of different cultures.
"My kids speak Arabic (their native language) and Spanish because they have Mexican friends," Tamimi said.
In the report to come out June 30, Taylor said she expects to see the steering committee make recommendations on the health and safety concerns rather than deal with the complaints about management.
The recommendations for Christopher City's future, including various management options, are expected when the second half of the report comes out at the beginning of next year.
Wrenn said he is confident that Taylor and the UA administration will listen to the reports.
"It would be foolish of the UA not to listen to our recommendations very carefully," he said.
The most viable option for fixing the existing problems for the long-term still rests in rebuilding the entire complex, Taylor said.
"The interest is out there," Taylor said. But as of now, she said the present facility isn't worth further investment.
"Why pour money into a bad facility?" she said. Read Next Article