WILKES-BARRE — Sherman Hills apartments resident Jean Bayyoud wants the public to know the troubled housing complex is home to more good people than bad.
“There are people that do go to work,” she said. “There are people that live here because they have nowhere else to go.”
Bayyoud was one of a handful of residents to turn out for a discussion Saturday with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright and members of the Sherman Hills Task Force, following a walkthrough of the property.
Cartwright, D-Moosic, and the task force asked the tenants what they think of the new owner’s efforts to improve the complex, which included some aesthetic improvements and the planned installation of a state-of-the-art system of high definition surveillance cameras.
All the residents who spoke on Saturday seemed to agree that while ownership has certainly changed, management and its practices have stayed the same.
Resident Claire Harris said management doesn’t listen to the concerns of tenants, and attempts to bring attention to them are met with directions to schedule appointments or put complaints in writing.
“We have no voice in this place,” she said.
More residents don’t speak up for fear of violence, she added, or worry about retaliation by management — which she also said treats senior citizens, herself included, “like dirt.”
“I’ve never been spoken to more rotten in my life,” Harris said.
Bayyoud said management isn’t paying attention to upkeep either, and the double doors leading to the high-rise apartments can be easily accessed without the required key card, compromising resident security.
“Management needs to keep their eyes open. If not, push them out and let me run the place,” Bayyoud said.
As for the promised incoming camera system, residents seemed unimpressed and suggested an overnight security presence would prove a more successful deterrent to crime. Stationary cameras, the group agreed, are vulnerable to damage and would leave many parts of the complex without coverage.
Task force members suggested security patrols might give the complex the feeling of a prison, but tenants assured the task force that said feeling already exists.
“Every time I see the fence I feel like I’m in a concentration camp,” Harris said.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Cartwright and John Van Metre, property management director for Sherman Hills owners’ parent group The Aspen Companies, agreed that the problems in Sherman Hills didn’t start over night, and aren’t going away over night.
Cartwright said he’s pleased with the progress the new owners are making, but the task force is not disbanding.
“Nobody is here to declare victory,” Cartwright said.
Van Metre said the new owners have spent more than $150,000 since taking over in April, and are invested in rectifying violations and improving the property.
He said he looks forward to the complex receiving a “clean bill of health” in September.
“Long-term problems require long-term solutions,” Van Metre said. “We are here for the long term.”
The Sherman Hills Task Force will meet in a closed session to further discuss improving the property at the Luzerne County Courthouse on Monday.