Last updated: February 16. 2013 7:29PM - 904 Views

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by STEVE MOCARSKY and EDWARD LEWIS

Violent crime at two of the area's largest privately owned housing projects - Hanover Village in Hanover Township and Sherman Hills in Wilkes-Barre - has some residents feeling unsafe and neighbors calling for action.

Police officials in both communities acknowledge the sprawling complexes are sources of a disproportionate number of violent crimes, and they expressed concern for the law-abiding people living there.

For decades government officials maintained a goal of federally subsidized housing is to ensure that low- to middle-income people have a safe, affordable place to live.

But many residents said they feel anything but safe. Most were afraid to have their names used in this story for fear of retaliation from drug dealers and other criminals at the complexes.

"As long as you stay in your house, you're safe," said Yahaira Rodriguez, who lives with her three children at Hanover Village in Hanover Township.

"It's safe now because it's early," the 31-year-old said while barbecuing on a small charcoal grill in her small front yard on a warm afternoon last week. "I've been here a year. So far, for me, right here, this place is safe. It's not that bad."

But, she added, she won't let her children wander around the 15-acre development.

And with good reason.

Three weeks prior, two men were shot near the complex entrance during a large fight. In June, two other men were shot, also during a large fight just outside the complex.

Two days prior to that, police arrested a village resident and seized hundreds of packets of heroin and thousands in cash from her apartment. The same month a man was assaulted walking to his apartment.

"I'm not feeling good at this time," said Digna Ward, who lives in the complex with her son and husband.

Is she feeling safe?

"Not really," said Ward, 43, and a resident there for four months. She thinks management should do more stringent background checks on applicants and would like to see a crime watch.

Management mum

A manager at Sherman Hills, located off Coal Street, declined to answer any of a reporter's questions last week but agreed to meet with a reporter this week.

Attempts to reach the owner of Hanover Village - Virginia-based Hanover Village Associates - were unsuccessful. The address for the owner and Hercules Real Estate Services - the management company - on company websites are identical.

A woman in the office at Hanover Village refused to answer any questions and said the manager was on vacation. She also refused to provide a rental application to a reporter.

Attempts to reach a representative of Bronx, N.Y.-based owner Sherman Hills Realty also were unsuccessful.

Some feel entitled

A 26-year-old Sherman Hills resident said he's been squirreling away money for a house down payment and moving his family out. He pointed to bullet holes in his patio doorframe and in the exterior wall below a second-floor window.

"I believe public housing is supposed to be to help you get on your feet so you can achieve more," said the man, who declined to give his name because he's afraid of becoming a target of criminals.

But he thinks some feel entitled to live there and find it easier to make money through criminal activity. He fears that lawless mindset has become pervasive.

In addition to the man's apartment being shot at three weeks ago, a stabbing on Aug. 1, an assault with a shotgun on July 4, a shooting on June 16, and an assault on a pregnant woman on May 27 are among several incidents at the complex in the past three months.

People living near Hanover Village and Sherman Hills blame much of the crime in their neighborhoods on project residents and their visitors.

Several residents of Hanover Hills, an upscale community adjacent to Hanover Village, complained to township commissioners at their August 13 meeting.

"I don't feel safe living in my own home," one Highland Drive resident told commissioners.

Residents told commissioners that since Easter, they've had to deal with arson, knocked-down fences, stolen property and numerous acts of vandalism. Residents said they reported it to the apartment complex managers, but management told them that there's nothing they can do.

Commissioners told them they plan to file a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes and regulates the complexes.

Commissioner Chairman Al Bagusky said Friday code, fire and police department heads have been inspecting the complex to prepare the formal complaint.

He said commissioners also intend to try to arrange a meeting with Hanover Village officials to discuss the problems.

Chief: Escalating violence

Hanover Township Police Chief Al Walker said Hanover Village has been part of the community for years.

"There has always been issues at that apartment complex, always been problems with crime. There are hundreds of residents located in a small area and just by those numbers, you're going to create some instances."

Hanover Village has 152 units while Sherman Hills - the largest complex in Luzerne County - has 344.

"What has changed in Hanover Village is the severity of the crimes that are occurring," Walker said. "We've had assaults and all kinds of fights back when I was on patrol. The difference now, opposed to the fistfights, are the shootings and stabbings. It's that increase in violence that is occurring there."

Walker said Hanover Village is a constricted area with only one access off East Division Street. There was a second access from Knox Street until the early 1980s when residents of Hanover Hills, a neighborhood of single-family homes with lush green grass and swing sets, complained about increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

A wood barricade now blocks access.

Walker said while most residents are law-abiding, there are tenants who cohabitate with individuals not on the lease.

"You have individuals from outside the area cohabitating with tenants up there allowing them to stay. They're bringing in that bigger city attitude that our area is not used to. I believe that is causing the escalation of violence," the chief said.

"A healthy percentage of residents up there are not involved in criminal activity but it doesnâ??t take many individuals to ruin the whole neighborhood. That is what is happening up there. You have good apartments and a few not so good apartments, and it's causing the escalation of violence," Walker added.

Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Gerard Dessoye echoed Walker's viewpoint on subsidized housing and expressed concern that criminals were preying upon law-abiding tenants.

"The problem with Sherman Hills is twofold. It's a city within a city and people there trying to get a leg up and (who) need a helping hand to get out of poverty are victimized. To the criminal element, they look at these tenants as poor people and nobody cares about them," he said.

The Sherman Hills layout creates problems for patrols, Dessoye said. The buildings are on roads that turn and lead to dead-ends as opposed to Boulevard Townhomes, which run parallel between South Welles Street and South Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.

"The logistics of doing (police) operations in Sherman Hills makes it difficult,â? Dessoye said. "It's a maze for people. The design of that complex makes enforcement a little more challenging. If I were chasing you in any of those buildings, there are 100 places for you to go. If I were chasing you at Boulevard Townhomes, there are limited places for you to run," he said.

Residents' suggestions

Three men talking on the lawn near the rental office all agreed more police presence is needed at the complex. They blame problems on people from out of the area and real estate moguls more concerned with profits than resident safety.

"If real estate developers wouldn't take all these people out of the ghetto and the big city, you wouldnâ??t have all this crime here," said a 57-year-old resident who declined to give his name.

He wants city police to have a 24-hour presence at the complex and focus their attention on younger people walking around the site rather than questioning folks closer to his age about whether they live there.

His friend, a 44-year-old man living in the same building, said he would like to see more patrols driving through and drug-sniffing K-9 patrols walking through.

"The cops need to get off their butts and spend more time here," he said.


The history of Hanover Village

? Plans to construct Hanover Village were announced in September 1968 when the late U.S. Rep. Daniel Flood announced the Federal Housing Administration reserved funds for the rent supplement apartment complex on 15 acres once owned by the Glen Alden Coal Company off Division Street.

? Construction of the $2.2 million, 10-garden style apartment buildings with 150 units, began in late 1969.

? Tropical Storm Agnes, which flooded the Wyoming Valley, suspended construction in June 1972. The flood also changed Hanover Village's purpose for low-to-moderate income families and began accepting families that had their homes destroyed.

? The first tenant to sign a lease at Hanover Village was Bernard Rubin on Oct. 9, 1972.

Rubin's house in Wilkes-Barre's Riverside Park was consumed by the swollen Susquehanna River, according to The Times Leader archives.

? Sixty-eight families affected by Tropical Storm Agnes moved into Hanover Village in the following weeks.

The history of Sherman Hills

? The devastation of Tropical Storm Agnes and the emergent need for housing created the Sherman Hills Housing Development on 22 acres of land off Coal and North Empire streets in Wilkes-Barre. The $8 million construction project consisted of an eight story Sherman Terrace with 104 apartments for the elderly and disabled and eight garden-style, three story apartment buildings with 241 apartments.

? The first scoops of dirt at the groundbreaking for Sherman Hills were thrown on Oct. 21, 1974, by Flood and the late Gov. Milton Shapp. Sherman Hills was constructed for moderate income families and received its first tenants in January 1976.

? The area was once landscaped with mine shafts and was heavily strip mined in the early 1900s. An incinerator was constructed and the city used the land as a landfill in the 1930s before trucking garbage at the East Side Landfill opened in Plains Township in the 1950s.

Wilkes-Barre police reports for Sherman Hills:

Aug. 1: Erik Steadele, 22, and Eric Williams, 22, both of Wilkes-Barre, were charged with stabbing Joel Steinruck in Building 320.

July 25: An unknown person fired several shots at apartments 403 and 404 in Building 308. No injuries were reported.

July 11: Police charged Daniel Ebert, 38, of Lawrence Street, Wilkes-Barre, with possession of heroin and cocaine after leaving a building in Sherman Hills.

June 30: Police charged Amity Potichko, 39, of Hanover Township, after heroin was allegedly found in her purse while sitting in a vehicle with a child in Sherman Hills.

June 16: Police said a man was shot in the apartment complex.

May 31: Police charged Natalie Thomas, 24, Melvin Hall, both of Wilkes-Barre, and DeJuane Gause, of Pittston, with breaking into an apartment in Building 324.

May 27: Police charged DeJuane Gause, 26, of Pittston, and Natalie Thomas, 24, of Wilkes-Barre, with assaulting a pregnant woman.

March 17: Police charged Richard Mitchell, 35, of Wilkes-Barre, after a firearm with an altered serial number was found inside an apartment in Building 320. Police were investigating a burglary at another apartment when the firearm was found.

March 4: Police arrested Keon Tyler, 23, on numerous charges after a traffic stop in the apartment complex, where he resided.

Jan. 14: A man delivering food from Great Wall Chinese restaurant told police he was robbed by a gunman at Building 320.

Jan. 2: A man delivering food from Tin-Tin Chinese restaurant told police he was robbed inside Building 320.

Dec. 28: A delivery employee from Golden Palace Chinese restaurant told police he was robbed in front of Building 320.

Dec. 27: A delivery employee from Great Wall Chinese restaurant told police he was robbed inside Building 316.

Dec. 26: A delivery employee from Great Wall Chinese restaurant told police he was robbed at gunpoint inside Building 328.

October 2008: State and local drug agents arrested 14 members of a street gang they called the Long Island Boys that distributed a large amount of heroin in the apartment complex from December 2007 through 2008.

June 19, 2008: Aaron Baxter, 23, known as Rockstar, was killed in a shooting inside Building 332. Police at the time said they suspected Baxter, of Philadelphia, was shot during a drug deal.

Hanover Township police reports for Hanover Village:

Aug. 19: Police charged Peter F. McCoy Sr., 28, of Wilkes-Barre, with drug and traffic offenses after a traffic stop in Hanover Village. McCoy allegedly threw a bag containing marijuana after he was stopped when he drove the wrong way in the apartment complex.

July 28: Khauri McPhail, 25, and Sean McPhail, 26, both of New York, were shot near Building 1 during a fight involving 15 to 20 people.

June 7: Police arrested Kristen Martin, 26, after allegedly finding 378 heroin packets in her apartment at 508 Hanover Village.

June 2: Bashier Edwards, 19, of Madison Street, Wilkes-Barre, told police he was assaulted while walking in Hanover Village. He was treated at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

April 29: Police investigated gunfire in the 600 block of Hanover Village. Shell casings were found on the ground.

Jan. 1: Melissa Brown told police she was assaulted by several females while she was walking to her apartment.

May 20, 2011: James Cooper, of Scranton, shot and killed Shana Bagley, 25, and wounded Bagley's husband, Bradley, 27, and Thomas Harris, age unknown. Police believe Cooper was upset over losing custody of his daughter and intended to kill the child's mother, Shaundra Langille.

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