2017-11-10 / Front Page

Sunset Tower residents express concerns about safety

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Security upgrades coming, says Sanford Housing Authority
By TAMMY WELLS
Senior Staff Writer

SANFORD — Some residents who live at the Sunset Tower public housing complex on Main Street in Sanford say that they wish they felt more comfortable in their homes.

A couple of residents say they’ve been parking their cars elsewhere, because they’ve been damaged in the parking lot, and others say they’ve had cash stolen from their apartments. Some residents say they suspect drug activity is taking place in the building. Others say windows are drafty, the outside smoking hut is too close to the main building and there are other maintenance issues.

But even as a handful of residents outlined their concerns one day last week, officials at Sanford Housing Authority, which manages the 73-unit high rise complex for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, say plans are already in place to make some upgrades at the facility.

SHA Executive Director William Keefer said new security cameras in common areas of the apartment complex and in the rear parking lot will be installed soon.

He said all of the apartments will have new locks this year and within the past few days, an alarm has been installed on a rear door that sounds whenever it is opened, to help prevent unauthorized entry.

Sunset Tower, which is home to about 80 elderly and disabled adults in 73 units, is a secure building, with visitors required to be “buzzed” in the front door by someone who lives there. But tenants say sometimes doors are propped open — especially late at night — allowing folks who don’t live there to come in. 

That makes tenants nervous, and they suspect those who come in are up to no good.

SHA maintenance supervisor Randy Levangie said Sunset Tower is “system secure” with the buzzer system, but said it gets bypassed.

“(Tenants) let you in, I’ve see it happen,” said Levangie. As well, he said, over time, folks who live there have lost keys to their apartments, gotten new ones and then made copies for others, to prevent future lock outs. New locks should increase security, he said.

Resident Daniel Ashburn has been parking his car in a different lot for some time, ever since he discovered his car had been “keyed” — gashes etched into the paint by use of a key or other implement — and his tires flattened, in the Sunset Tower lot. Another resident, who declined to give his name, pointed to scratches on his car that he too says happened in the rear parking lot.

Ashburn, 65, has health issues that make it difficult for him to walk to where he’s been parking his car. When told that cameras will be installed in the rear lot, Ashburn said he’s glad SHA is responding.

“Hopefully it will improve security,”  said Ashburn, who has lived at Sunset Tower for four years.

Resident Amada Minks said her rent money was stolen from her apartment — while she was inside — several months ago. She said she reported the theft to SHA and was given a different lock for her door.

Keefer said prospective tenants are screened.

Both Keefer and Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly said the two agencies have a good relationship and frequently work together.

Connolly said if residents call about a crime, police take reports. But sometimes, he said, incidents don’t get reported to the police agency.

“If there is a crime — theft,  destruction of property, breaking into  an apartment, threatening harm— those are police matters,” said Connolly, and should be reported to the agency.

Incidents like folks taking batteries out of a phone in a common room and the like are issues for the landlord, he said.  

“There are a lot of quality of life issues going on. that have no legitimate solution,” said Connolly.

As to the theft at her apartment, Minks said she had been told by an SHA worker there was talk of hiring a a security guard, but that hasn’t happened.

“We were told to put (our issues) in writing but then it goes to an invisible file and nothing gets done,” said Minks.

“It gets filed,” said resident Shkir Shbazz.

“It used to be so nice here,” said Irene Ryder, a resident for 11 years.

Another resident said she wants to feel safe.

Keefer said sometimes complaints SHA receives from tenants are vague, and those reporting issues are uncomfortable being more specific. 

“We’re trying to get folks to help us out as much as they can, with a name, etc.,” he said.

As to upgrades, Keefer said it comes down to finances. Folks who live at Sunset Tower pay 30 percent of their modest incomes in rent. But because that doesn’t cover costs of operating the 10-story building, the federal government allots money to SHA to do so. Keefer said there have been cutbacks and formula changes that have resulted in less money to support the housing complex.

Last year, said Keefer, SHA lost about $120,000 in funding for Sunset Tower and Eastside Acres, a public housing complex designed for families across town.

The agency does receive some capital improvement funds however, and got approval just a month ago to install the new security cameras. They’ll also be installing the new locks, which should help, Keefer said.

“I don’t want people to feel unsafe,” Keefer said. “I am concerned people feel that way.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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