This Old Housing Project

Page 7 of 11

Today the current resident council -- after having disbanded for a few years -- can't find a place to meet, and Reed notes that the property has gone from "beautiful to what it is today." To her it's become a neighborhood where children run around unsupervised and pull up cable lines at the bases of homes just to play around with them. She says that last year kids played with pay phones on the grounds, calling 911, which may have inflated police calls for service stats. (Jackson says the same thing.)

Reed doesn't blame the bad upkeep at East Village on owners or maintenance. She blames it on the residents. After all, she points out, her apartment is immaculate. And she thinks Barros and the current council are mostly making noise to make noise. "It's just that things are changing and we have to change with the time," she says. "There was a time none of us were living over here. Progress stops for no one."

She is not alone in her sentiment. One of the guys who does maintenance at East Village says he can't give his real name because management doesn't allow its staff to talk to the press. To him there is no question about it: Whoever buys East Village will move the residents out. For good. Promises to the contrary are just politics.

"They've got to put a little tomato sauce on the meat to dress it up," he says. "Baby boomers and yuppies have come in and fucked everything up. It's greed."

Francine Savala has plenty of tattoos, bearing her name and the names of her children. "Savala" is in gothic letters on her neck; "Alonzo" on her left leg, for her son A.J.; "Matice" on her right leg; "Tameria" on her right shoulder; and on her wrists, "Baby" and "S," for baby Solomon. She's thinking about another tattoo, but she says she doesn't know if she wants to spend the money.

Three of her children live with her; her baby girl lives with her father. A native of Albert Lea, Minnesota, a small town near the Iowa border, the 22-year-old Savala moved into East Village in March 1997. She's thinking about moving. "If worse comes to worst, I'll be packed."

Her apartment is in bad shape. There's a square-shaped hole about two feet by two feet in her wall -- that was there before she moved in. There's mold on the carpet. Since last October, her refrigerator has only been good for freezing food, and a replacement didn't arrive until a few weeks ago. The back room has a hole in the ceiling that's two months old and hasn't been fixed. The moldy carpet here is covered with boxes; the room smells musty. If Savala stays, she wants to install chicken wire across her ground-floor patio to prevent the neighbor above from dumping trash on it.

Everyone blames Casden for the shoddy upkeep at East Village, but Jackson says that "before Casden bought the property, there were problems." Because East Village rents have to be approved by HUD, they lag behind a comparable market-rate project by one-third. Jackson explains that this means maintenance efforts are underfunded and chronically behind schedule -- by five or six years, he estimates.

Still, he thinks a lot of the blame for the shoddy units must be borne by years of excessive wear and tear by residents. "Cabinet doors don't just fall off," he says. "You have to apply pressure."

According to Cliff Jackson, before deciding to sell East Village, Casden was planning to buy the fifty Arrowhead apartments from the DHA and redevelop the entire complex itself, with at least 800 low- to moderate-income apartments. The 249 combined units of subsidized housing would remain, while the rest would be built under a federal tax credit program called Section 42.

Last December, Casden Properties did offer to buy Arrowhead for $20,000 a unit -- a total of $1 million. During a conference call with Alan Casden, DHA executive director Sal Carpio and other city officials, Carpio says Casden told him, "Your stuff is a bunch of junk, like mine is." Carpio said no way: His mandate would be to replace all fifty units somewhere else in the city, and $1 million wasn't going to get it done.

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T.R. Witcher