Sites Suffer Spike in Gang and Youth Violence
In August, the manager of a tax credit site in Newark, N.J., reported that during this past summer, residents have suffered an increase in criminal activity that has been unusual even for inner-city housing projects. For example, as reported in the New York Post on August 6, four teenage students who were listening to music in a parking lot not far from a local housing project were shot by a group of armed thugs.
Affordable sites in Newark are not alone in experiencing an increase in violent crime within the tri-state metropolitan area. In Harlem, for example, the New York Times reported that on May 21, “Two teenage cousins were hospitalized after being shot early yesterday by hooded gunmen while waiting to go into a party at a Harlem housing project.”
In another violent incident, police arrested a New York City teenager after he shot and critically wounded another youth outside a Staten Island housing project, as reported in the New York Post on July 18. The victim of that attack, who was 16 years old, was shot in the face near the site's rear entrance.
Many inner-city, government-subsidized housing sites are dangerous places to live, especially during summer months, when unemployed youth are out of school. Increasingly, however, crimes occurring within site confines are being committed by outsiders, often by street gangs or troubled teenagers, police reports have shown.
For example, a young hoodlum recently mugged an elderly woman at a site in Queens. The incident prompted New York legislators to propose “Granny's Law,” which makes it a felony to assault anyone who is 70 years of age or older. If the legislation passes, assaulting a senior would carry a four-year jail sentence, and if the victim is injured in the attack, the penalty would increase to seven years.
Stopping violence at your tax credit site is important for a number of reasons. First, you could be sued for faulty premises security and held liable for civil damages. Violent crime can also damage your site's reputation, causing good households to leave and preventing new, reliable residents from moving in.
“Neighborhood crime, especially by youths who are gang members, has become a hot topic for my clients, who are property managers in the inner city,” says Dan Bancroft, a Massachusetts attorney who specializes in affordable housing. With Bancroft's help, we have identified a number of tips you can use to prevent street gangs from causing problems at your site.
Keep Gangs Out of Your Site
Here are some steps Bancroft suggests you take to keep gangs away from your site:
Increase security. HUD may reimburse sites for the cost of hiring additional security. “In a case involving drug activity at an assisted site owned by one of my clients, management let a police officer occupy a vacant unit for surveillance purposes,” Bancroft said. Having a police officer as a live-in employee has been known to be an effective method of reducing site crime, he adds.
Post “NO LOITERING” and “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Site managers may post signs to discourage gangs from hanging out at a site. Once signs are posted, gang members are on notice that if they set foot on site premises, they may be prosecuted.
Issue “TRESPASSING” notices to unwanted visitors and resident hosts. Trespassing is a complicated legal issue at affordable housing sites because residents are allowed to have guests. As long as a guest remains within the resident's unit, the police will not make the guest leave. But if the guest leaves the unit to loiter in a common area, the police may force the guest to leave.
You can also take action in advance against a guest whom you do not want setting foot on-site. You can send the resident who invites that particular guest a letter, letting the resident know that the guest is an undesirable. If the resident remains defiant, you can claim a lease violation.
If, after you post a “NO TRESPASSING” sign, the guest comes on site, you can issue the guest a notice that he or she is trespassing. If a resident is responsible for the guest's presence, issue a notice to the resident as well. Record the date, time, and place that you issue the notice; it will serve as evidence later, should you seek to evict the resident for violating the lease.
Install surveillance cameras. Cameras must be located in “common areas” obviously, but these may include hallways, stairwells, and parking areas, where gangs congregate. Again, HUD may reimburse property managers for the cost of installing surveillance cameras.
Use gates to prevent gangs from gaining access. Managers may install gates, although this solution could cause problems for local authorities that need to have access to the site in case of fire or other emergency. HUD may reimburse property managers for the cost of installing gates.
Install additional lighting. Adding light sources to parking lots, yards, or common areas can help reduce problems. Again, HUD may reimburse property managers for the cost of installing additional lighting.
Be seen around the site. Although managers are not expected to act as security personnel (and although they lack the training required to be put in harm's way), they should make themselves visible around the site. “The more management is visible, the better,” Bancroft says. “A site manager's presence at the site during regular business hours may have a chilling effect on youth misbehavior and street gangs. By being visible, managers give the appearance that someone in authority is watching,” he adds.
Dan Bancroft, Esq.: Broderick, Bancroft & Goldberg; 313 Washington Street, Ste. 207, Newton, MA 02458; (617) 641-9900; DAB@broderickbancroft.com