Tramire’s Landlord Comes Under Fire
by Paul Bass | Oct 12, 2012 12:38 pm
People no longer feel safe in the Dwight neighborhood, a landlord told a roomful of property owners.
You should do a better job managing your property, another landlord replied.
Hours later, their talk turned to bloody reality, as someone shot a 16-month-old child a block away.
The morning discussion—and then the afternoon shooting—took place in the Dwight neighborhood Wednesday.
Ten representatives of area landlords and four city staffers gathered at 10 a.m. inside the Dwight police substation at Edgewood and Day to discuss the state of the neighborhood.
The meeting brought to the surface complaints that the government-subsidized Kensington Square Apartments, run by an out-of-state outfit called Community Builders, has spun out of control, particularly on the block of Kensington Street between Chapel Street and Edgewood Avenue.
Just over four hours later, at 2:35 p.m., someone shot a 16-month-old boy named Tramire Miller in the torso on the porch of a house on that block, igniting citywide grief and outrage and an overwhelming police response. Tramire survived the shooting.
Erik Johnson, director of city government’s Livable City Initiative (LCI), organized Wednesday’s meeting. He invited some of the larger property owners in Dwight, which has a heavy concentration of renters, to begin gathering regularly to air concerns and work together on communal challenges.
After Tramire’s shooting, Johnson called the tragic incident symbolic of the work that needs to get started among the participants in the meeting.
“Community Builders has not been the best performer” as a landlord, he said. “We’ve told them that. They know that. They’re finally taking steps toward” doing better.
Tramire’s family lives in a three-story house that’s part of Kensington Square, a scattering of houses in the neighborhood with more than 200 total apartments. Community Builders owns and manages the development.
A slew of Community Builders’ apartments run up and down that block of Kensington Street. The block has long been an epicenter of violent crime in New Haven, the gang-controlled heart of the “Tre” neighborhood.
Recent developments have increased people’s fears. So reported representatives of Community Builders at Wednesday morning’s community meeting.
The organizations represented in the room—Community Builders, a national not-for-profit company; the Pike International and Netz/Mandy real-estate empires; Neighborhood Housing Services; D.J. Ornato’s Off-Broadway firm, the Greater Dwight Development Corporation—own a big chunk of Dwight.
Crime at Kensington Square, an unconnected series of rental apartment buildings, emerged as a top concern.
Jacqui Pheanious, the on-site property manager for Community Builders, spoke of how knots of up to eight young men wearing face masks and hoodies have begun planting themselves in front of various Kensington Square buildings along the block. Moms are afraid to bring their children outside, she said. She said she and a fellow staffer have begun approaching the men during the day to ask them to scatter. The young men comply, then return soon after, she said.
“Women and children are intimidated in their own homes,” Pheanious said. “These people [the young men] are not residents.”
Pheanious spoke about a park (pictured) mid-way down the block which neighborhood activists succeeded in pressing the city to build so kids could have some place to play and cool off in sprinklers, according to Linda Townsend-Maier, who runs the Greater Dwight Development Corporation.
A city crew comes to clean up the park every day, only to have people trash it again within an hour, Pheanious reported. Jim Perrine, another Community Builders official in the room, said women have told him they’re scared to take their children there, too.
Perrine said Community Builders is planning improvements for the sprawling stretch of buildings it owns around Kensington, including new landscaping, fencing, lights, security, awnings.
That didn’t impress Yochi Levitansky of Pike, which owns hundreds of apartments in the area.
“It’s nice to” put up awnings and fences, he told Perrine. “It’s more important to screen tenants.”
He said he understands that it takes extra work to screen tenants if they happen to be covered by the federal Section 8 housing-voucher program (which all Kensington Square tenants are), Levitansky said. But Pike rents to lots of Section 8 tenants, too, he said, and the company screens them thoroughly and succeeds.
Pheanious responded that Community Builders has started “taking a harder look” at new Section 8 tenants.
What about existing tenants? Levitansky pressed. Many Kensington Square families have rented there for years, through various owners. Do you do background checks on them?
Pheanious responded that recently more of those long-term tenants have received portable Section 8 vouchers—meaning they’re not tied to one location—enabling them to move. That has produced more turnover than in the past, and more opportunity to scrutinize new tenants, she said.
“You will see the change,” she vowed, but it will take some time.
Perrine and Community Builders’ Scott Foyer, who heads the company’s “regional hub” from a Massachusetts office, spoke of coalitions the company has built with other neighborhood “stakeholders” near its properties in other cities. Those coalitions have helped reduce crime, they said, and they’d like to see a similar effort in New Haven. LCI’s Johnson said he intended the new group gathered Wednesday to play that role.
The new working group agreed to meet again in a month and keep doing so. D.J. Ornato pressed Johnson and LCI to help find a way to connect five video surveillance cameras installed by the Chapel West Special Service District to the police department’s system in order to get fast crime footage to the cops. Johnson promised to follow up on that as well as a request for possible residential parking in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Kensington Square tenants interviewed about Community Builders didn’t trash their landlord. They did echo the fears about having their kids play outside.
Denise Alvarez (pictured) lives on the same block as Tramire’s family. Her 4-year-old daughter Markianise (pictured above with her) plays with Tramire’s sister. (“They’re very cool,” she said of the Miller family.) Alvarez said she doesn’t feel comfortable having them play outside in the neighborhood; she brings Markianise and Tramire’s sister inside the apartment.
She did feel comfortable bringing Markianise to play in the mid-block park during the summer. Now, after hearing Wednesday afternoon’s gunshots, she’s not so sure.
“I’ve spent 13 years [in Kensington Square]. I never had a problem” with Community Builders, said Idalys Santini (pictured), who lives from the Millers.
Elisa Castillo, who rents an apartment in the same house as the Millers, said Community Builders does eventually respond to calls about problems—“after you call a few times. I think they should do things better. [But] they OK.”
Community Builders representatives failed to return repeated messages left over two days for further comment.
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A big thanks to the landlords and city staff for their work to address this problem. Please keep up the pressure on Community Builders!
Has the Mayor spent any time on this block within the past year? The problems are obvious to anyone who walks through the area a few times per day.
Shouldn’t more park employees be hired (from among residents in the neighborhood) to help clean that park, if it is currently unusable? Or has all of our money been redirected to staff time so people can talk about the job pipeline?
The managers may be slumlords or not- don’t know—but let me explain something. You can screen tenants to your heart’s delight. It might not be them but their friends, boyfriend, cousin, sibling, aunt, etc. who move in and all hell breaks loose. There is no way to screen a person’s whole life. Maybe the city can use some of the loot it raises from shaking down landlord’s with the rental “inspection” to help the owner’s with extra police presence. Or maybe if the owners have enough property and enough money left after they pay their exorbitant taxes, they might consider hiring private security forces—just like the city of Camden, NJ is doing!
“Under fire” is not really the best choice of an expression to use in this headline. The casual use of a gunfire metaphor in the aftermath of a real shooting case strikes me as disrespectful of the actual suffering of the actual victim and his family.
Gretchen, With all due respect, the title of the story caught my attention and anything that draws attention to the situation may help stem more tragedies in the future…
Crime in that area is not new to this decade. Anyone remember the 1990’s? Anyone remember KSI? Anyone remember the TRE? Anyone remember the violent late 90’s when KSI was at war with the Ville? Have the powers that be forgotten? KSI members might be in jail or dead but there’s a new generation operating under a different name.
There is a lot to be said about the information contained in this article. I also read what Yoki said about screening tenants. He is, at the very least, a hypocrite. I was a tenant in one of his properties. From what I saw that was allowed to move in around me, as long as you had a deposit and the a government subsidy, you had an apartment. Pike was slack with the up keep and maintenance of their properties, but kept buying more and more. And I won’t even begin to mention some of Mandy Management properties. They’re just straight up dumps. Hard for people to want to change their way of living when living in substandard surroundings. I will not begin to say ALL are bad, but if the shoe fits…