police
The mayor and council are concerned with the number of police responses to Union Gardens.
JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS/ STAFF

By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local

Union Gardens at 50 Greenwood Ave. has been the site of 30 police responses in 2017 and 22 in 2018 — the latter including the township’s third homicide of 2018. As a result, the mayor and council asked the Montclair Police Department, the township’s Section 8 administrator and the management company of the 87-unit affordable housing complex to address safety issues.

“We’ve had a number of incidents involving individuals at this address, and want to find out why, and ensure that we get that under control,” said Mayor Robert Jackson. “There’s a recurring problem. We’re not comfortable. The community deserves quiet enjoyment of their homes, so we need to ameliorate some issues.”

The 22 incidents this year include domestic violence, assaults, warrants and CDS on property, with “some arrests made,” said Montclair Police Captain James Carlucci. “We started doing walk and rides, and that quelled some incidents, but things happening behind closed doors are difficult to prevent,” said Carlucci.

According to police, Tameeka Johnson was stabbed to death Nov. 12 at her Union Gardens residence. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Jones, has been charged with the murder and is still at large.

The 30 incident reports at the apartment complex in 2017 included car breakdowns and medical issues, Carlucci said.

During a ride along with Montclair Police Department five years Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager said she noticed a lot of alleyway areas with no lighting around the Union Gardens building.

“Good lighting is one of the best ways to prevent crime. That building is not well lit,” Schlager said.

Tree maintenance will provide a better line of sight for police. Additionally, camera equipment around the building is non-working because the cameras are newer and equipment to manage the system is older, Carlucci said.

“There are a multitude of approaches to consider,” he said, adding that establishing an 11 p.m. courtyard curfew at Union Gardens could help.  

Mayor Jackson reflected on the police-related incidents at Union Gardens. “If affordability [housing] comes with other issues, like lives and quiet enjoyment being lost, it comes at what cost?” Jackson asked.

Last year, the owner applied and was approved to convert 55 of the 87 units to Project-Based Rental Assistance Section 8, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data shows. Those units’ rents are subsidized by HUD.

Fifteen other units are occupied by Section 8 choice voucher residents, meaning the occupants have chosen to live there using a section 8 voucher, according to Bruce Morgan, the township’s Section 8 Housing Officer.

All residents who get vouchers pass criminal background checks before being approved, Morgan noted.

“The [15 units ] include five disabled individuals, four elderly individuals, and six families,” Morgan said. “We have no authority over where they go [with their vouchers]. The Housing Choice voucher allows individuals to choose where they live. There were no issues, to my knowledge, at 50 Greenwood Ave. These individuals choose where they live because of affordability. We can’t tell them where to live.”

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher waiting list has not been open since 2007 in Montclair. There are currently 321 vouchers spread throughout the town, including, but not limited to, Union Gardens, Montclair Residences and the Montclarion, said Morgan.

Ten to 15 people lost their vouchers in the past two years due to non-compliance in the program for failing to provide income verification as required annually. None lost their vouchers due to criminal activity, said Morgan.

“We run background checks every year. If something happens during the year, police will inform us or the property manager. In those instances, as long as the person is not involved in drug or violence-related activity, they won’t lose their voucher,” Morgan said.

Union Gardens’ management company Edgewood Management of Maryland representative Donna Walker said the company was unaware of the volume of incidents.  “We want to make sure it’s a safe community. There are 87 units, one vacant, but we’re at 100 percent occupancy so there’s not a lot of turnover. We evicted one tenant due to damages.”

Jackson suggested that police provide a “courtesy notification” to the management company when incidents occur on site. Carlucci said currently the property’s management is notified of repeated offenses of local nuisance violations.

Police and complex management did not return calls inquiring about security upgrades.