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Eight years in, Village Green Apartments complex viewed as successful

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GLENS FALLS — The unrest was routine for Pearl Randall.

The footsteps of police officers in pursuit on her rooftop never bothered her much.

Neither did the constant mentions of Henry Hudson Townhouses on her police scanner, which she bought for entertainment when she moved into that complex in 1987.

She still keeps it to this day, a reminder of a time when the place was called “the Chicken Coops” but was more like a hornet’s nest.

The federally subsidized housing project, squeezed between Hudson Avenue and Broad Street, was long considered a hotbed for crime, fights and drugs, with sky-high utility bills for its low-income tenants, scant security measures and sometimes absent management.

Order never seemed like much more than an illusion. Crime seeped into the complex’s maze of narrow alleys and sidewalks.

The chaos culminated in the 2005 murder of 26-year-old Duncan Chambers Jr., stabbed inside an apartment and left to bleed out on its concrete steps.

But then, it was gone.

Between 2007 and 2009, the decrepit blue buildings were demolished and replaced, after much debate, with modern townhouses and a mid-rise center.

The new complex took the name Village Green, and according to people involved in the renovation and in the project’s past, it hasn’t been the same since.

Big bills, big problems

A small, elderly woman who lives alone at Village Green, Randall sat on her wide green couch one recent afternoon and thought back to her times at Henry Hudson.

“It was a mess,” she said, shaking her head. “Water, water, water.”

There was so much that her old ceiling collapsed about a decade ago.

“They didn’t want to put the money into it,” she said, referring to the old complex’s management team.

They put up a blue tarp instead.

She and her late husband held off on moving into the complex until their son reached 13 years old. There was too much crime for them to feel safe with a younger child. And even then, they sometimes stayed with friends elsewhere.

There were no outside cameras at Henry Hudson. They wouldn’t have been very effective with the scarce lighting and clustered townhouses, which prevented people from seeing much of anything unless they were inside the maze.

Police call volumes to the old complex were high, and according to Glens Falls Police Chief Anthony Lydon, drug use there was “blatantly obvious.” Recurring troublemakers, though, were almost never evicted or sanctioned by the old management, he and Village Green management said.

So issues festered.

As Randall spoke, an ambulance flashed by her living room windows, which overlook Hudson Avenue and part of the parking lot near Glens Falls Hospital across and down the street.

“I’m so used to the sound of them,” she said.

Windows were always a problem for Randall — and for many residents of the old townhouses.

Because each apartment featured several large windows on its facade, heat was hard to trap, meaning tenants who wanted to keep warm during cold winters racked up sizable electric heating bills.

Randall said hers sometimes exceeded $400 per month. Now, with better buildings and natural gas heating, it rarely hits $60.

Most tenants at the site receive a government heat benefit, but at Henry Hudson, it often couldn’t cover a month. Tenants’ electricity was chronically shut off because they couldn’t afford their bills.

Peggy Powers, a tenant at the site for 21 years, was well-acquainted with those struggles.

“We couldn’t use our electric,” she said, sitting on her steps at Village Green. “It was too much, too much for what this place is — subsidized housing.”

Instead, she and others would use their ovens to keep warm.

Lee Cleavland, a 28-year veteran of the local Salvation Army and the organization’s current lead caseworker, said the shift in utilities costs has been the most noticeable improvement since Henry Hudson was torn down.

“(It was) horrendous for the cost of utilities,” she said. “So the strain that put on a family, and then the strain it put on a community through government assistance, is outrageous.”

She now usually sees family bills around half the figure she used to.

To add to Randall’s heat troubles, one of her windows at Henry Hudson never closed all the way — she had to fill the gap with cotton balls and duct-tape it shut.

The complex’s maintenance staff, she said both then and in looking back, hardly helped out, echoing others’ complaints.

Since they were so low to the ground, she also saw the windows as a safety concern — someone could easily break in.

“I was petrified to leave them open at night,” she said. “I was. I was scared.”

And yet, with all the crime, all the issues, there was little in the way of a space for the tenant community to come together and own.

“We had nothing,” Randall said.

Building community

Henry Hudson Townhouses was built in the early 1970s and was the subject of a controversial public debate for several years in the early 2000s.

The decision to demolish and rebuild the apartments came after suggestions that the tenants be moved to another location and the property be redeveloped for businesses.

Hudson Avenue Housing Associates, a joint venture between Evergreen Partners and Marathon Development Group, undertook the rehabilitation, and Preservation Management was brought in to overhaul the situation on the ground. Evergreen and Marathon still own the facility, and Preservation still manages it.

The townhouses were torn down as new ones were put up, and tenants began moving in in 2008.

Along with updating the townhouses and constructing the mid-rise, the operation included adding three streets to the site, a newer and larger playground, a basketball court and a community room in the brick mid-rise building.

The community room, a cafeteria-like space, has been touted as a prime example of Village Green’s success and praised by tenants.

“It’s made me feel so at home,” Randall said. “I’m not scared. I’m not worried.”

The room hosts tenant activities and meetings, workshops and events put on by community groups, like the Glens Falls YMCA. It’s been a conduit between the tenants and the broader city community, helping dispel negative stereotypes some might hold about the complex.

Nothing like it had existed at Henry Hudson.

“Instead of them having to go out to all these different places, a lot of services and programs can come in to the community center,” said Cleavland, the Salvation Army worker.

Powers said it has helped her and other tenants “astronomically.”

Property Manager Dale-Ann Brown, who took over at Village Green last year after a period of high turnover in management, said the community space has been boosting tenant’s moods.

“We really try to focus on all this positive stuff and keeping the parents active in the community,” she said. “That being available to them — the tenants and the community — is amazing.”

Under new management

For the most part, the Village Green management has been widely praised for its efforts in revitalizing the housing project.

“The atmosphere has changed,” Powers said.

“They’re trying, and they’re so hungry for these people to socialize and meet the tenants,” she said, adding later, “They want it to be a community. A happy community.”

City leaders have specifically lauded the new management company’s stricter tenant screening processes, rules crackdown and increased availability to listen to and address tenant concerns.

Brown said Preservation Management has a zero-tolerance policy and evicts tenants they discover are involved in criminal activity. Her staff checks in frequently with the Glens Falls Police Department, which patrols the complex, and seeks weekly police reports to ensure no tenants are listed. They’ve been putting together a neighborhood watch over the past year.

And, she said, there are now 25 cameras at the property.

“We evict them, and I think that sends a message of what the expectations are,” she said at her office recently.”The safety and security of everyone here is our focus.”

Lydon, the police chief, said his department’s numbers and call volumes to the housing site have “significantly decreased” in the years since the reconstruction. Police statistics for the complex are currently unavailable.

He attributed much of the drop in calls and crime to Preservation’s tighter screening and willingness to issue violations to tenants or evict them.

“The new management takes action,” he said. “These types of things never happened back when it was Henry Hudson Townhouses.”

Village Green’s physical design — more open and accessible than its predecessor — has been a boon to patrol officers as well, Lydon said.

In a brief voicemail, Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond told The Post-Star he’s heard nothing but compliments about Village Green from people in the community.

“Nothing has crossed my desk with any urgency in regard to criminal activity,” he said.

By all accounts, the management at Village Green has been much more active than that of Henry Hudson.

Still some concerns

Village Green has widely been seen as a success since its debut eight years ago.

Residents who lived in Henry Hudson have more pride in their home, and Brown said some people even come to her thinking the complex offers standard apartments for rent. To many, it’s no longer the eyesore it used to be.

“It’s just had such a bad name so long, I think people need to come here and see it,” Brown said.

In appearance, living conditions and tenant and community mentalities, she said, things have changed for the better.

Some residents, though, have complaints about Village Green.

Janice Miner, a tenant of six years, said the complex still has problems, even if it has calmed down a lot.

Her main complaint was that a gazebo there, which she said was supposed to be for smokers, apparently is not, and she and other smokers must go out by the road.

Mary-Anne Johnson, who lived in Henry Hudson and now lives a few doors down from Randall, takes issue with the smoking policies as well, saying she and other women who are forced to smoke on the sidewalks outside the complex are subject to cat-calling and threats.

“Give us a place that’s safe,” she said.

But her most-pressing concern in her time at Village Green — and one reason why she preferred Henry Hudson — has been mold.

At points during the past few years, Johnson has seen mold come and go in her apartment. (There is none, currently.) Past Village Green management, she said, had inadequately addressed it.

She showed a Post-Star reporter photographs of mold on her ceilings and in her bathroom.

She fears it’s returning. She no longer sleeps in her bedroom, she said, because she can smell mold in the basement storage area a floor below.

The Post-Star reporter found what appeared to be a moldy child’s car seat in the basement that day.

“They need to listen to somebody about this,” Johnson said.

Brown, the manager, said she has no knowledge of any work orders related to mold in Johnson’s apartment. Johnson made clear that the mold was an issue with the management prior to Brown and had praise for her management.

‘You can see it’s better’

T.J. Volcheck, who has Moebius Syndrome, a rare disability that paralyzes facial movement — he cannot smile — has lived in Village Green for about a year.

While walking his dog, Tilly, outside the mid-rise recently, he said he would never have applied to live at Henry Hudson because of its reputation.

“Just because of the way they looked,” he said. “They were dilapidated.”

Another resident who moved in recently, Veronica Poutre, waited for eight years for a spot to open in April and said she would have only applied to Henry Hudson “as a last resort.” Both she and Volcheck feel safe at Village Green.

Volcheck said there are “some small things” residents complain about, but overall, conditions are OK.

“You have to have the right mindset,” he said. “You have to see Village Green as a blessing.”

David Smith, an affordable housing expert involved in the rehabilitation and founder of the Boston-based Affordable Housing Institute, said the mindset of tenants can fluctuate depending on the environment in which they live.

“People respond to and are influenced by circumstances and surroundings,” he said.

With all the stressors in a place like Henry Hudson Townhouses, he said, “they’re going to be suppressed rather than motivated.”

Based on what he had read about Village Green, he called the project “comprehensively successful” and “a spectacularly good result.”

“People don’t adequately appreciate the extent to which bad housing contributes to bad communities and good housing contributes to good communities,” he said.

The growth of crime at Henry Hudson had been no surprise to Smith because “there was no place for a community to form.”

That’s why the community room at Village Green is particularly important, he said.

“If the residents, as an aggregate, are owning something, they defend what they own, and the virtuous cycle perpetuates.”

Ed Bartholomew, who heads the city’s community development department, called Village Green a model of affordable housing.

“I think it’s been an excellent pilot project for other communities to look at,” he said, particularly in its community integration.

“That doesn’t mean the management can rest on its laurels,” he added. “It certainly needs to continue being innovative.”

From her doorstep on the humid July day she was interviewed, Powers, optimistic about Village Green’s future, emphasized that despite the complex’s status as a low-income neighborhood and its plagued history, “good can come out of here.”

She cited her sons: One is a Glens Falls police officer, who patrols his home neighborhood, and the other is ex-military.

“I think the community and people can see,” she said. “You can see it’s better.”

She hardly hears the phrase “Chicken Coops” anymore.

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Justin Trombly is a news intern for

The Post-Star

. Follow him on Twitter @JustinTrombly.

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