Angry neighbors of a 42-unit apartment complex in Mount Washington told officials Monday night that they want the public housing facility shut down because its residents threaten the community's peace and safety.
Residents of the Just-Inn Apartments in the former St. Justin High School on Lelia Street fight in front of the building, get drunk and urinate in public, have left hypodermic needles and liquor bottles lying in the street, and generally have made the neighborhood a dangerous and frightening place to live, about three dozen residents told Michael Polite, CEO of management company Ralph A. Falbo Inc., at Monday's emotional meeting in the Mount Washington Senior Center.
Emilee Russell, 44, told Mr. Polite that residents of the building have offered to sell her heroin and that one man follows her 16-year-old daughter home from the school bus stop every day. Residents have made numerous 911 calls in recent years, and police must respond there almost daily, but nothing seems to improve, she said.
"How many calls does it take before one of our kids ends up dead?" asked Ms. Russell, who said she recently ordered a steel door because she is terrified of the building's residents. "No one should have to live like that."
Mr. Polite said he understood neighbors' concerns and planned to address them as quickly as possible.
"We'll find out if some of the people we're serving aren't living up to their end of the bargain," Mr. Polite, 51, of Squirrel Hill told neighborhood residents and Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who organized the meeting. "We want to be fair to them, but also we want to be absolutely fair to the folks in the neighborhood."
Acting police Chief Regina McDonald advised neighborhood residents to communicate more with each other and with the property's managers, who gave their contact information to meeting participants. She also suggested installation of security cameras, better lighting, assurance of thorough background checks and the hiring of a private security guard or off-duty police officer for the site.
"That will help relieve some of the anxiety within the community," she said.
The former high school was renovated as apartments and reopened in 1988 as Just Inn Transition, originally providing housing for elderly people under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to Just Inn board of directors president David Brenenborg. Several years ago, the building's population was changed to people who are at least 62 or have physical or mental disabilities, with one person allowed per apartment, he said.
Under HUD's rules, residents must pass a 10-year criminal background check to live in the building, although Mr. Polite said residents are not re-examined for infractions after they begin living there. The building is considered a nuisance property and is monitored by the city's Law Department, according to city solicitor Dan Regan.
HUD officials who oversee the building have been furloughed because of the federal government shutdown and did not attend Monday's meeting and cannot be reached by telephone, according to a representative of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, at the meeting.
Keith Stover, a Zone 3 police officer who lives across the street from the Just-Inn Apartments, said he had to help one resident to his room one day at 8 a.m. because the man was too drunk to walk and posed a danger to himself on the street. Other residents, some with mental health issues, leave their doors open at all hours and are at risk of theft and injury, he said.
Without more oversight of what happens inside the building, both the residents of the building and the neighborhood are in danger, Mr. Stover said.
"Somebody is failing this facility," said Mr. Stover, 50, who said he no longer allows his 16-year-old son to go outside in the neighborhood. "Somebody is failing these patients. And somebody is definitely failing this community."
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1719. First Published October 14, 2013 8:00 PM