Like most people, Shalena Johnson has been sheltering in place due to the coronavirus shutdown. The time she spends in her Carver Hall Gardens apartment on Oxford Avenue in Frankford has given the newlywed more time to get used to the patter of little feet around her $855-a-month abode.

But her problem, said Johnson, 40, a six-year resident, is that the feet belong to what she thinks must be rats or squirrels or raccoons that have been scampering in her drop ceilings for months.

Tenants of Carver Hall Gardens in Frankford protest living conditions in March 2020. They plan to stage another protest Friday, May 1.
Renters United Philadelphia
Tenants of Carver Hall Gardens in Frankford protest living conditions in March 2020. They plan to stage another protest Friday, May 1.

Cheryl McCray, 63, said that since moving into Carver Hall Gardens in January she’s been unnerved by young men who use a fire escape stairwell as a den to smoke marijuana and to relieve themselves.

Todd Abney, 53, has lost track of the number of mice he’s killed in his apartment in the 4600 block of Adams Avenue in Frankford’s Northwood section, where he has lived for three years. His floor is sinking and someone tried to kick in his front door, he added.

Johnson, McCray, and Abney have the same target for their frustrations — their landlord, MCM Management Solutions, a Teaneck, N.J., company that owns 670 apartment units in 40 buildings in Pennsylvania and North Jersey. And although MCM made cosmetic upgrades to common areas around some buildings in recent months, tenants said, living conditions are still subpar.

Michael Webster, MCM’s director of tenant and public relations, said the company has responded to complaints about rodent and safety issues. Since December, he said, it has spent more than $200,000 to upgrade and renovate properties, mostly the 60-unit Carver Hall Gardens, its largest property in the city. Renovations were made to the laundry room, the lobby, and apartment unit doors, and additional security cameras have been installed, he said.

While renters rights groups are calling for rent strikes in response to the coronavirus shutdown, the residents of five MCM Philadelphia properties already had been organizing before the pandemic.

Tenants of Carver Hall Gardens in Frankford protest living conditions in March 2020. They plan to stage another protest Friday, May 1.
Renters United Philadelphia
Tenants of Carver Hall Gardens in Frankford protest living conditions in March 2020. They plan to stage another protest Friday, May 1.

They held a rally March 7 at Carver Hall Gardens, and another is planned for Friday — with a social-distancing monitor and gloves and masks for all who attend — said Johnson, one of the organizers.

“The problems persist and they are not doing anything about it,” Johnson said. “There are still homeless people living in the building harassing people. People are afraid to do their laundry. The doors are still not secure.”

Webster said the company is aware of only one incident in which a homeless person slept in the building. He said tenants with complaints about intruders, pests, or other problems should contact customer service by phone or by using the company’s website. In addition, he said, the company recently began delivering groceries free of charge to elderly residents and others who cannot shop.

“If they don’t tell us, we can’t fix it,” Webster said. “Unfortunately, we are not there to babysit our tenants, we’re there to help them when they need help.”

Renters United Philadelphia, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Public Interest Law Center, is helping the MCM tenants. On Friday, tenants intend to request suspension of rent payments and late fees for the duration of the government’s stay-at-home order and three months afterward. They want rent increases halted and a plan for accommodating those who have trouble paying in the future. They want improved security and maintenance, quarterly pest extermination, and a meeting with MCM.