Residents fear for safety due to elevator problems at Downtown Memphis apartment building

WATCH: Elevator issues at Barry Towers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FOX13 has received several phone calls to the newsroom regarding the elevators at Barry Towers not functioning properly.

Barry Towers, a low-income apartment complex in downtown Memphis, was built in 1971. The CEO of the Memphis Housing Authority, Marcia Lewis, told FOX13 many things in the building have ‘outlasted their life’ – that includes the elevators.

Because of this, Lewis said in 2018 MHA began replacing the two elevators. One remained in service while the other was under construction. The first elevator replacement was completed in mid-June of 2019, according to residents.

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But they say they never know if the one in-service elevator is actually going to be working.

“What are these people supposed to do? Are they supposed to be held hostage in their apartment and not go anywhere because they have to worry about if they go down, are they going to be able to go back up?” Trina Allen-Johnson said.

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Allen-Johnson’s son has been living at Barry Towers for about a year. As recently as Sunday, she said the only working elevator at Barry Towers was down – the newly-replaced elevator. She said her son had to miss church with the family because he couldn’t get down from the 13th floor.

Allen-Johnson told FOX13 Investigative Reporter Leah Jordan her biggest worry isn’t about missing church – it’s what might happen in an emergency.

“If something happens to these people, what are you going to say?” she said. “How are you going to explain to their families that, ‘oh, the elevator wasn’t working right then…the paramedics weren’t able to get up there?’ What are you going to tell them?”

Allen-Johnson’s son isn’t the only one affected. Arthur Carpenter told FOX13 he moved out of Barry Towers about three months ago after living there for years.

He is wheelchair-bound, and said he experienced issues while living at the complex.

“Both of them taking turns breaking down. That’s not fair. Not to the people in walkers, canes, crutches, everything, even wheelchairs like me,” Carpenter said. “Those old elevators, I got caught in them about eight or nine times,” he said.

Robert Patterson currently lives at Barry Towers. He told FOX13 he worries for the safety of the elderly.

“They ain’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re supposed to be working quick,” Patterson said. “If it catches fire and the elevator ain’t working, how are the old folks going to get up out of there if it catches on fire?”

FOX13 called the Memphis Housing Authority’s CEO for answers.

Marcia Lewis said while the second elevator is being replaced, there are fire watch professionals inside Barry Towers. Lewis said the project is taking a while because Barry Towers is a federal building, so all of the processes move slower than a private building.

She said during the replacement of the first elevator, workers discovered the generators were not efficient enough and were not able to handle new elevators. She said events like this hold the process up.

Lewis explained that the issue with the elevators stems from residents holding the doors open for too long – Lewis said that causes the elevators to stop working, and they can only be fixed by the elevator company.

FOX13 asked what would happen if an emergency occurred and the elevator wasn’t working, even if it was due to residents holding the door open. There was no answer to that question.

Lewis said MHA hopes to have security cameras installed inside Barry Towers by the end of July to better monitor who holds up the elevators and take action that way.

Residents told FOX13 whatever the problem is, “it needs to be fixed sooner than later.”

“I don’t know who to put the blame on, but one thing is for sure: they need to get those elevators properly fixed,” Carpenter said.

FOX13 requested all complaints filed at Barry Towers regarding the elevators since the beginning of 2019 through the open records act. We are still awaiting a response to that request.