BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Union Gardens’ new community manager said residents’ concerns over sanitation and security issues are being addressed.
The apartment complex at 50 Greenwood Ave. has come under scrutiny recently, following a failed inspection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as complaints from residents who appeared before the township council at a recent council meeting.
Residents Rosie Harrison and her sister told the council last month that they are concerned with what she says is an increase in incidents of crime and rodent sightings, as well as non-functioning surveillance cameras at the Section 8 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) complex.
“We have seniors living there and there’s drug paraphernalia, homeless people in the laundry room and the cameras aren’t always working,” Harrison told the council. “[We have] rats on the outside, mice on the inside.”
Last year after a woman was found stabbed to death at Union Gardens, resulting in an increase in police response to the complex, the mayor and council asked the Montclair Police Department, the township’s Section 8 administrator and the management company of the 55-unit affordable housing complex to address safety issues.
While officials said last year that police responses were 30 in 2017 and 22 in 2018, in 2019 police have responded to complex hundreds of times, but mostly on security checks, according to a police department dispatch log obtained by Montclair Local.
And since Yolanda Vazquez, the complex’s new community manager, took over in October she is working to fix the issues.
“The rodent problem was addressed the day after it was reported to the office,” Vazquez said, adding that she has proposed twice-monthly exterminator visits rather than the current once-a-month maintenance.
Her first project, she said, was to remove 58 shopping carts that were littering the complex and causing an access hazard. The next was responding to HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) November inspection of the complex that dates back to 1975.
HUD properties receive an inspection every three years to ensure safe, decent and affordable housing and to identify fraud and abuse.
Vazquez said the complex failed the inspection.
“We are now repairing what was noted in the REAC,” she said. Management will be going into residents’ apartments to get the repairs completed.
The complex will be reinspected again in a year to ensure all the repairs were made.
Management is also currently upgrading camera software for the 20-plus cameras already on the property and will install at least nine more, she said. Police also have surveillance cameras located on the outskirts of the property.
Montclair Police captain James Carlucci said last year the MPD increased foot patrols and security checks and that quelled some incidents. Any issues happening behind closed doors are difficult to prevent, said Carlucci.
Most of the police logs reflect foot patrol and security checks, along with 10 disputes, seven noise complaints, three acts of vandalism, three attempts to break up a large group, three burglaries or thefts and two suspicious persons reports.
All residents who get Section 8 vouchers pass criminal background checks before being approved, according to Bruce Morgan, the township’s Section 8 Housing Officer. Background checks are run on an annual basis as well.
“If something happens during the year, police will inform us or the property manager,” Morgan told the council last year. “In those instances, as long as the person is not involved in drug or violence-related activity, they won’t lose their voucher.”
Vazquez said she plans to attend the Dec. 3 council meeting to give an update on changes that have been implemented by management and to answer any questions.