On August 13, 2013, a meeting was held for West Hill residents. Below are the meeting minutes collected and organized by Sophie Zapala.
Description: West Hill Community Meeting at the LACS to discuss rental housing and management on West Hill. The meeting took place in the auditorium.
Date: Monday, 08/08/13, 5:30PM-7:30PM
Host: Cynthia Brock, First Ward Alderperson
Co-Sponsor: Diane Carruthers, LACS Principal
- Svente Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca
- Neil Nappi and Bill Meeker, West Village management (Reliant RS)
- Leonardo Vargas-Mendez, Director of Public Service Center at C.U.
- Paul Mazzarella, Exec. Director Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (manager of rental properties on lower Elm St, Cedar Creek, and TowerView housing complexes on Floral Ave.)
- Brenda Westfall, Ithaca Housing Authority (manages several subsidized housing projects including the 10 units on Hector Ave in addition to Section 8 voucher program)
- John Barber, IPD Chief
- Jamie Williamson, IPD Public Information Officer and Patrolman
- Greg Martin, Chestnut Hill Apartment manager – invited but not attended
Media: Kristy Westbrook, journalist, Ithaca Journal (working on a story for the Ithaca Journal regarding crime trends in Tompkins County)
Pete Blanchard, News Anchor/Reporter, Cayuga Radio Group, Cayuga Radio
Attendees: About sixty West Hill residents of both the city and town jurisdictions. Also attending were City Alderperson Jennifer Dotson, Tompkins County Legislators Will Burbank, and Leslyn McBean-Clariborne, and ICSD Board of Education members Judith Maxwell, Sean Eversley-Bradwell, Eldred Harris and Seth Peacock.
Mayor Svente Myrick greeted all participants, introduced the guests and briefly explained the purpose of the meeting plus two prior meetings from earlier the same day. They all aimed to address issues and concerns related to rental housing and management of West Hill, yet each focused on unique needs and objectives of different stakeholders. The first meeting of the day involved discussions between the housing property management representatives and the IPD to layout the plans of future cooperation between and among the property management and the city. During the community meeting Reliant RS (owners of West Village Apts) committed to give $12,000 to the City every year to pay for IPD overtime patrol details (as needed) to West Village. The second meeting expanded to include the West Hill Research Group, which consists of residents of Chestnut Hill Apartments, West Village and Cedar Creek, representatives of the Cornell Public Service Center, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, to meet with property managers, Alderperson Brock, the Mayor and Chief Barber. The last meeting and the subject of these minutes was to bring all parties plus West Hill residents together for a joint discussion. Mayor Myrick made it clear that his intention is to hear the concerns and requests of all West Hill residents and work toward the solutions that would improve the safety and quality of life on West Hill. He pointed out several ongoing initiatives such as the Cornell sponsored study by Public Services Center, Urban Outreach program at LACS with 80 slots for West Hill kids and youth that could benefit from participation, and use of a Community Room at LACS.
Cynthia Brock, the main organizer of the meeting, expressed her gratitude to all present for attending (special thanks given to Neil Nappi who travelled from NYC to attend all three meetings), showing interest, and voicing their concerns and ideas. She also explained that the meeting was a culmination of various efforts and community meetings that started two years ago and continued to this day and how they fit into the overall goal of building a strong, supportive and inclusive community on West Hill, through re-establishment of regular community meetings, increased collaboration and support of City and ICSD, and a visioning process for West Hill. She also mentioned the current initiative to integrate separate West Hill list serves into one e-mail distribution list.
Diane Carruthers, the LACS principal, welcomed all meeting participants at the school and stated her support to host Urban Outreach program at the school.
Guests and noted speakers – Statements
- Chief Barber – Expressed his commitment to control crime and improve the safety on West Hill. He indicated that saturation patrols have made a difference and that IPD intends to maintain the presence in the neighborhood, support walking patrols and building of community relationships with IPD, and to work closely with the rental housing property management to prevent and investigate incidents. Incident statistics for 2011, 2012 and early 2013 were circulated showing call trends rising in 2012, and declining in 2013.
- Neil Nappi – Introduced himself as a Security Chief for West Village and a former police officer. He said that the extensive system of cameras proved helpful thus far, and that after a short uptake in incidents late last year, the frequency of incidents has come down since. He reiterated his readiness to work with the IPD and announced that West Village will gift to the city $12,000 every year to pay for IPD overtime patrol details (as needed) to West Village. He also stated that management enforces a zero tolerance crime policy, screens all tenants and takes steps to remove tenants in violation of their leases. However, he indicated that it is difficult to remove a tenant/family for activities of the guest of the renter.
- Leonardo Vargas-Mendez – Elaborated briefly about the Public Service Center study he currently heads to define best practices and guidelines to develop and integrate urban complexes with the residential neighborhoods. It is believed that the West Hill community may benefit from the findings of the study. The goal is to facilitate the process of community organizing by research, empowering the residents, and harnessing good ideas and initiatives. The West Hill Neighborhood Participatory Planning Projects is a community building and educational collaboration between the Cornell Public Service Center, local leaders such as Marcia Fort (GIAC director), Reverend Ronald Benson, Alderperson Cynthia Brock, the Urban 4-H Program of Tompkins County, Lehman Alternative Community School, residents from West Village, Chesnut Hill Apartments, Cedar Hill, the Ithaca Police Department and the Mayor’s Office to overcome quality of life and safety challenges in these three rental housing complexes and make their families and residents full, effective and active neighbors in the largerWest Hill neighborhood. The project is currently supporting community building projects such as West Village’s community cafes, Cedar Hill Apartments community cafes, and the Chesnut Hill community garden, the Urban 4-H after school and “No More Tears” community organization. All these entities and residents sponsored a community block party at the beginning of the summer at Lehman Alternative Community School.Data is generated through qualitative and quantitative means to help educate each of the active participants of the needs, hopes and asset of each of the rental communities to enhance current strengths and build new individual and collective capacities to improve quality of life for families and children in their current residential environment.
- Brenda Westfall – Explained the application process for section 8 participants, minimum requirement of no felonies or drug related charges within the last 7 years, and what steps are taken when the violations occur. Having over 20 years of experience in the field of managing subsidized housing projects she offered to provide advice on good practices that could benefit West Hill community.
- Paul Mazzarella – Reviewed the meetings that took place earlier in the day and how important it was that these discussions took place, and to be mindful that there was little presence of renter residents at the meeting, and their voices are missing from the conversation.
- Sean Eversley Bradwell – Stated that more efforts should be put into building a stronger and integrated community rather than into increasing the police presence in and around the apartment complexes. He indicated that ICSD is dedicated to provide additional activities to the school aged kids and youth; the district is considering opening the LACS computer lab couple of nights per week. He also mentioned that there is a plan to put a basketball court at LACS in about a year.
- Michelle Mills – Expressed gratitude for the Police presence yet noted that the residents of West Village who are primarily good people – “a few bad apples spoil the batch” – have tried to organize themselves and turn the complex into a family oriented community that puts interest of its children first. She mentioned the internal initiative, the Community Café and Youth Café gatherings, at the WV community room. Also, she said the Café women took an initiative to join forces with women from neighboring apartment complexes and formed an informal organization called “Women on the Rise” to address the quality of life issues and shared concerns, develop friendships, and support each other. She also expressed the excitement over the expansion of the existing Urban Outreach for Kids project – until now it was limited to West Village resident kids and took place in the WV community room – which now will be hosted at LACS and will provide after class activities for 80 kids from West Hill. She was clearly happy about the positive response she and other organizers of the recent block party received from the community after the event.
- Ana Ortiz – Appealed for unity and respect between all West Hill residents. She explained how important it is to understand that rental housing residents strive to do well for their families and kids just like anybody else. She acknowledged that there are problems at Chestnut Hill Apartments but she added the residents organize themselves to better things and often they are blamed for incidents or crime unjustly. She asked that people do not blame Chestnut Hill Apartments for everything wrong going on in the vicinity. She offered her help in case some homeowners have problems with the Chestnut Hill Apartments residents and said she makes things happen in the complex.
Participants’ Comments – in no particular order
- Infrastructure – West Hill community is lacking the adequate infrastructure and this prevents the community from integrating:
- Elementary School – the number of elementary students from West Hill is growing, but West Hill does not have an elementary school. Children are being bussed to other neighborhoods and often do not know each other. They are bussed home and cannot stay after school with classmates or participate in after school activities. Parents are not given the opportunity to build neighborhood community through a neighborhood school. Parents who volunteer for the PTAs help to build other communities but not the neighborhood they reside in. Ideally, we want our own elementary school on the hill in the future.
- McDaniels Park is limited as an attraction for families and children due to its secluded environment. Parks are typically a place of games, gatherings and recreating that binds the community.
- No Playground – a place for small kids to interact, learn sharing and build sense of identity from the early age.
- Police Outpost – sense of security and promise of quick response.
- No WH Economic Base – places of work where residents from all walks of life could work together and build personal and professional relationships without having to get in a car to get to work.
- No Community Place – a traditional hub where all things West Hill could take place.
- Police Presence
- Most participants felt strongly that the increased police presence and saturation patrols are a good thing.
- A few participants felt that this might be divisive and intimidating, and that focus should instead be on the efforts to develop stronger community.
- Property Management
- Some participants seemed to support a Zero tolerance policy for the tenants in violation of the section 8 and/or lease term agreements.
- One participant expressed negative sentiment toward evictions, no further reasoning was provided.
- The often repeated statement that problematic residents move between rental housing complexes. It was verified that once a person violates the section 8 rules and is evicted he/she is no longer eligible for subsidized housing. However, such individual may move to another complex as someone’s guest which could be a lease violation in itself.
- Court leniency was named a contributing factor to difficulties with removing trouble tenants from the complexes. Something needs to be done about it. Suggestion was made to institute a “bar-out” policy to keep out those with convictions.
- One participant raised an idea of a neighborhood watch as means of getting control over the crime situation.
- Multi-Jurisdictional Cooperation
- There is a need for better cooperation between the IPD and Sheriff’s Office – currently the two law enforcement organizations work together on multi-jurisdictional events, swat teams actions and drug related investigations but more can be done.
- Criminals do not care about jurisdictions and the law enforcement needs to pursue them beyond the city/town lines.
- City has more officers on patrol than the Sheriff’s office hence there are some difficulties in sharing the burden of incurred costs equally.
- There is a need for better cooperation between the local municipalities – city, town and county – for all boards and agencies including and especially those involved in planning, development and traffic management. Need to recognize a growing frustration with city, town and county silo-ing planning and services. Someone suggested that bringing a federal government to make the municipalities work together might be an option.
- A suggestion was made to advocate for unification of city and town as this might help with getting our own elementary school.
- West Hill roads and sidewalks are inadequate, the hill experiences traffic problems.
- There is no storm water management. The city and town need to work together to improve the infrastructure.
- Rental Property Management Cooperation
- The community needs and demands more involvement and support from the Chestnut Hill Apartments management. Greg Martin’s absence and lack of any other representative from his management team at the meeting was a big disappointment for many participants who looked for an opportunity to ask questions.
- It was suggested that a closer cooperation between the management of the rental housing complexes in both the city and town limits might help in improving quality of life on West Hill.
- There is a concern that income-oriented housing is being concentrated on West Hill over other areas of the City/Town.
- Crime Control
- Residents on West Hill expressed sadness and regret that the hill has changed for the worse and it is not what it used to be. People feel insecure in their own homes, on their own driveways or properties; locking doors, garages and cars is a must these days. Some residents are scared, some are angry, some are paranoid to leave their home after multiple burglaries, and some installed extensive surveillance systems. Others perceive that the crimes happen predominantly on West Hill. The consensus was that we want to improve the crime control and not just stop it from getting worse.
- There is a worry about violent crimes on West Hill. A resident reported finding guns on their property.
- There is a concern that there is no effective monitoring of multiple offenders. One resident’s home was burglarized three times during the last year and the burglar caught committed the offense shortly after being released on parole.
- Want DA’s support of IPD to reduce repeat offenders.
- Quality of Life
- Residents expressed stress with not only crime but also daily quality of life issues such as noise, police interventions, littering, etc.
- Littering seems to be a concern on Elm Street. There is garbage in the streets and creek and on the private property lawns. The homeowners end up cleaning trash and litter on a daily basis. The bus stop is a major problem area.
- A suggestion was made to install waste baskets at the bus stop and all the way down on Elm Street to the intersection with Floral Ave and possibly beyond.
- It was clarified that it is the person’s responsibility to clean up after themselves, then the landlord to clean up on their property, then the city’s responsibility to clean the bus stop area and along the curb.
- A suggestion was made to come up with a neighborhood anti-littering campaign to prevent the littering in the first place.
- A suggestion was made to have West Hill litter and trash clean-up parties.
- Future Development
- A concern was raised regarding the Biggs property project and future housing increase as per the county comprehensive plan that will surely increase the density on West Hill while there are no viable plans to improve the infrastructure. The planning agencies seem to execute their own arbitrary decisions and do not consult with the residents before fact. It is impossible under such conditions to build a stronger community on West Hill when projects are decided by the government agencies without public input. City, town and county planners who do not understand that new development projects should be preceded by the infrastructure upgrades should not be planners.
- West Hill needs new employment opportunities that will support walkable neighborhoods and eliminate the need to commute to work to the city/downtown and other hills via congested old Octopus. Biggs Property, a prime piece of real estate, offers such possibilities. Instead of being used for yet another housing complex that is likely to contribute to crime increase, could host a variety of special housing units – some could be affordable – for medically challenged residents such as seniors, physically handicapped, mentally sick, vision-impaired and others who need assisted living. A project of this kind would not only provide housing for those who need it most but also would provide employment opportunities for residents.
- Special vocational training classes could be organized at the LACS to obtain required care givers certifications.
- A concern was expressed over recent environmental degradation from loss of trees. Many large trees have been recently cut on West Hill and many more will be cut for the new housing development. Rain flooding cause massive soil erosion and damage because the roads lack proper ditch and run-off systems.