Aug. 6 2014 12:00 AM

Serious problems persist at the public housing complex on South Washington Avenue, residents say — those brave enough to talk. Authorities dispute it.

The stories from residents are appalling — they paint a picture of a developing country, not a five-story building on Lansing’s near south side. Human feces and urine in the hallways, common areas and elevators. Large, aggressive crowds blocking entry to the building. Threats directed at anyone attempting to close a security door into the facility. Large fights. Guns. Drugs. And bedbugs on the fourth and fifth floor.

The residents live in fear, they say. Fear of the violence, and retribution from management if they speak out. They say the place has become a “tower of terror.”

The Lansing Housing Commission operates the 248-unit, five-story building where rent is 20 percent or less of a person’s income and many residents receive state or federal assistance. Officials there acknowledge problems.

“There are concerns about blocking the doors and fights. LHC has and will continue to identify lease violators and issue termination of tenancy notices,” says Patricia Baines-Lake, executive director of LHC. “On an infrequent basis urine and feces have been cleaned. When such issues are caused by residents, without medical emergencies, eviction notices have been issued.”

City Pulse spent several days at the complex talking to residents aged 27 to 65, on and off the record. All expressed fear for their safety or fear of retaliation from management if they used their real names. LHC officials deny that they retaliate against residents who raise concerns.

However, safety is an issue. Following a conversation with City Pulse, a man approached two people who had spoken with a reporter and within in ear shot threatened to “blow your fucking brains out” for having spoken. City Pulse is not identifying sources in this article.

The complaints are not new. Nearly a year ago, City Pulse reported on the ongoing crisis. At the time, city and Lansing Housing Commission officials touted a new security camera system, onsite security guards and aggressive policing actions as the solution.

A year later, however, the private security contractors are gone. LHC had to cancel the contract after federal officials determined the payments for security staff were ineligible for the federal funding area previously used, Baines-Lake said.

Despite the loss of private security, she says there are plenty of systems in place for security at the facility — one of the four properties operated by the commission. The other three are LaRoy Froh, Mt. Vernon and Hildebrandt Park.

“LHC discontinued security personnel,” Baines-Lakes said in an email to City Pulse. “However, security cameras were installed and a community policing officer works with LHC staff at South Washington.”

The $65,000 video camera system was installed in June. And the community policing officer was assigned in 2012.

“Over the course of the past 18 months, LPD has conducted several operations to address the crime issues that were most prevalent in the complex,” says Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski. “This included knock and talks, drug raids, surveillance, walk-throughs, and general enforcement during pro-active police contacts and calls for service.”

Yankowski says aggressive enforcement actions and the addition of the community police officer are working.

“In 2013, LPD responded to over 300 calls for service to the complex,” Yankowski said in an email to City Pulse. “So far in 2014 there have only been a total of 79 calls for the first seven months of the year.”

The city did not immediately respond to a request for the number of 911 calls, or the number of arrests for those same periods.

The commission opened bids in mid- July to upgrade the security doors on the facility.

Residents enter a small lobby-like area, but they need an electronic card to entry a second door. When the onsite managers leave at night, the door is propped open. Residents say shutting it means risking a violent confrontation with residents and non-residents who congregate there.

“I was told we were moving in the right direction,” says A’Lynne Boles, president of Lansing City Council who represents the southwest side of the city – that include the location of the facility. “I’ve gotten no calls from resident there – that I know of.”

A year ago, residents complained about bedbugs, and the LHC acknowledged that some pests were found but denied there was an infestation. But residents say the bedbugs remain a problem on the fourth and fifth floors and LHC officials have brought in pest control agents and even dogs to search for the vermin.

%u2028It seems the bug problem continues.

On Friday, there was a mattress wrapped in plastic in the facility’s dumpster. That’s exactly how the Michigan Department of Community Health recommends disposing of a bedbug-infested mattress.

Baines-Lake said the organization was unaware of the problems on the fourth and fifth floors but would send pest control experts to evaluate and, if necessary, act.

Residents say their voices have been silenced by current management. A residential council once operated in the facility, supporting community building events such as holiday parties, and serving as a neighborhood council on community concerns for management. That council was ended under new management, residents said.

Baines-Lake says this is inaccurate. “LHC did not remove the resident council,” she said, noting it ended before the current management was in place. “We have and will continue to encourage residents to form a resident council.”

Yankowski says the city and Police Department are trying to develop a stronger community in the complex.

“While this is multi-story apartment building — it is still a neighborhood,” Yankowski said. “Strong neighborhoods are built on community involvement and watching out for your neighbors. The community policing officer and our staff believe the best methods to resolve the issues within the building are with these strong relationships and improved communications. In fact, LPD and the City have held a Community Picnic at the complex in which hot dogs and other refreshments were served.”