SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Anthony Fasolo moved out of football legend Tim Green’s apartment complex Feb. 25, fed up with the crime, filth and fear that came with living in the Skyline Apartments.
In the middle of the move, he said, he and the movers scrambled to avoid a “crazy man” wielding a sledgehammer and threatening people.
“I’ve called 911. They’re on their way, but the (way) business management is, they just don’t seem to really wanna respond to it,” Fasolo wrote in an email to Syracuse.com as he lay low in his apartment.
Syracuse police arrived and convinced the man to go back to his apartment, then they left, Fasolo said.
On Wednesday, three weeks after Fasolo moved out, an elderly woman was found murdered in her apartment there. Last month, a 37-year-old man who did not live there was found dead in a stairwell. Police do not suspect foul play in his death.
“We are very frustrated with the efforts of the management of this building,” Police Chief Kenton Buckner told reporters as the complex towered over him.
Since Sept. 1, Syracuse police have been called more than 527 times to the Skyline, once one of Syracuse’s most glamorous addresses. That’s almost three calls a day. The figure doesn’t include the 293 ambulance calls there in that period, or the near-daily arrival of the fire department for false fire alarms or medical calls.
Regularly, there are assaults with weapons, fights between drug dealers and domestic violence.
The violence and crime occur in a building that is home to some of society’s most vulnerable: those with disabilities, drug and alcohol addictions, and mental illnesses. Thirteen social service organizations place clients at the 365-unit Skyline complex.
Conditions at the 13-floor building are getting worse more than a year after problems were first exposed by Syracuse.com, according to interviews with tenants, advocates, city officials and others.
Residents and city officials say the hallways are filthy. Stairwells are often used as bathrooms or places to shoot up. Outsiders wander into the building at all hours. Drug sales are as normal as niceties between neighbors.
Those interviewed blame the owners for failing to invest in security and maintenance while they try to sell the building at 753 James St., which has been on the market since December 2019 at a price of $16.5 million. A sales listing projects about $1 million to $1.6 million in annual net income.
The owners are Tim Green and his son, Troy, who is the CEO of their company, Green National. Tim Green had a famous career as a defensive end at Syracuse University and the National Football League. He later became a broadcaster, lawyer and author. Green announced in 2018 he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal neurological disease.
The Greens’ company owns 32 multi-family apartment complexes in four states. It owned 24 such properties a year and a half ago.
In an interview this month, Troy Green acknowledged that the building has become more dangerous for tenants lately. He blamed the pandemic as the major cause and said the staff and management are doing all they can to keep the building safe and clean. The statewide eviction moratorium has prevented the staff from removing problem tenants, he said.
“We share the frustration with everybody, whether it’s the residents or the city officials,” he said.
Those city officials say they’re doing their best to force the owners to take seriously the issues there. They likened dealing with issues there to a game of “whack-a-mole” where new problems arise to replace ones they resolved.
“The condition there that we’ve recognized is unacceptable, and it’s incredibly frustrating because the ownership has abdicated, frankly, their contractual responsibilities to the residents that they have to maintain safe, code-compliant, healthy housing,” said Michael Collins, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Business Development Department.
According to interviews, these are the conditions tenants still live with:
— Elevators are frequently out of service in the 13-floor building, forcing long wait times. Some elderly and disabled tenants report being shoved aside in the crush of people trying to get into the elevators
— Those who can take the stairwells meet appalling and unsafe conditions. Video provided by a tenant taken last month shows garbage, feces and needles on most floors.
— Security continues to be a problem. Outsiders can easily walk in without being asked to identify themselves. Many sell drugs, tenants say. A Syracuse.com reporter entered the building without being questioned multiple times over the last three weeks. So did a team of code enforcement employees during an unannounced inspection last month.
Living in fear
Antonio West, a quadriplegic, said he’s been robbed by strangers multiple times since moving in in September. ARISE, an organization that helps disabled people, found the apartment for him. Rent is $740 a month.
He wants to get out as soon as possible, he said.
Problems at the complex make life hard, he said. At least one elevator seems to be broken always. People jump in ahead of him, he said.
On March 5, the buttons to open doors automatically for those in wheelchairs weren’t working, so he had to try to pry the door open with his chair or hope someone let him in.
In addition to the maintenance problems, fear is ever-present for many tenants and organizations that serve them.
West’s health care manager won’t go up to the fourth floor to see him out of fear for her safety, she told Syracuse.com. She insists on meeting downstairs in the lobby. Other organizations are making similar decisions, according to organizations and advocates.
West is most afraid at night, he said. That’s when the “vampires and werewolves” come out, he said, alluding to the intruders who congregate in the stairwells.
The building needs more security, West said.
“You need two of ‘em, at least,” he said. “One to watch the desk and the other to walk around.”
Green National employs one security guard to staff a lobby desk after business hours. In past years, the owners paid a tenant or an employee to monitor who came in and out.
That’s the same amount of staffing as the 235-unit Regency Tower complex across the street, which got just 12 police calls in the six months in which the Skyline amassed 525.
The Skyline is still too easy to enter. A Syracuse.com reporter visited the building five times in three weeks: Feb. 24 at 3 p.m., Feb. 26 at 8:30 p.m., Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m., March 5 at noon and 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday. Each time, no security was at the desk. A paper sign read “Photo ID required” to enter, but no one was there to check.
In recent visits, lights flickered in hallways and trash was strewn on the floors and in stairwells. There was a thick smell of cigarette smoke. One elevator was broken, and riders could be seen jabbing the buttons over and over in a futile attempt to hurry the other two.
Outside the lobby, a person wrote “F*** Skyline” on a wall in pen, signed “XO.”
Of the police calls since Sept. 1, 42 were for harassment, 39 for disturbances, 26 for domestic violence, 17 for fights, 48 for a mental health crisis, 13 for a suspect with a weapon, 19 for larceny and 11 for assault.
Troy Green said it is often the case that the security guard or office staff will be called away to deal with an issue, leaving the desk unmanned. The doors to the lobby are locked 24 hours and can be opened with a key fob, but foot traffic in and out of the building is so constant that it’s easy to slip in.
Hiring security has been a challenge, Green said. He said the eviction moratorium is partially to blame because troublesome tenants cannot be removed. There has been high turnover among security guards who deal with unruly tenants so often, he said.
While the eviction moratorium has made it impossible to legally evict tenants for non-payment of rent, tenants who break laws or damage property can still be evicted. Green said the company did not evict any tenant in the past year.
Collins, the city’s neighborhoods official, said Green’s company needs to invest more in security.
“What I’ve seen, and what we’ve heard, is security hasn’t been what it was at one point. There were sheriffs in there,” Collins said. “… But what we’ve seen is security on site is maybe more passive than active. People still walking in, walking right by.”
Despite the security problem, Skyline actually cut security costs in the past year. About six months ago, the company opted to no longer employ off-duty sheriff’s deputies to keep watch, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.
Green said the change was partially because of the cost.
That saved the company $85,000 in security costs, according to a budget document and an interview with a broker who prepared a sample budget for how to make the Skyline building profitable to a new buyer. The cut left the company with about $50,000 in annual security salary costs.
The owners plan to improve security with a new check-in station in the lobby that will better regulate who enters the building, Green said. He had no estimate of when it would be done.
The woman’s murder discovered Wednesday has prompted Green to accelerate the station’s construction, he said Wednesday.
He also responded to criticism from the police chief.
“I would love to speak to the chief and Syracuse police to get their advice on how to make the community as safe as possible,” he said.
Earlier this week, Green said the owners brought off-duty deputies back to the building to provide security. They started patrolling again Sunday.
A sheriff’s office spokesman said the company reached out to bring the deputies back after Syracuse.com asked about it.
On Feb. 5, facing a rash of complaints, a team of city and county officials made an unannounced sweep of the building. They were able to walk right in, unquestioned.
When they made it to the stairs, they were disgusted.
“The stairwells were atrocious, absolutely atrocious. (There was) garbage. They were being used as bathrooms and not being attended to, not being cleaned,” Collins said. “And that’s beyond unacceptable.”
The city’s code enforcement department hit the building with three violations, requiring management to clean, sanitize, re-paint and repair rails on all 12 stairwells in the building.
When inspectors revisited Feb. 26, one of the 12 stairwells had been fixed, but the rest were still in rough shape.
Green said the stairwells have become such a huge problem because there are no security cameras there.
Asked why management hasn’t put cameras in the stairwells, Green cited the expense and said the owners initially hoped the cameras they’d installed would be enough.
“Getting them to the stairwell, it’s a huge expense and that’s not the reason why we didn’t do it,” he said. “We initially didn’t do it because the thought was, we had all 13 floors and elevators so that you could see who went into the stairwell and who came out. But I think it’s been there’s just been a lot more traffic in the stairwells.”
Collins said the stairwell problems are typical. The company only addresses the problems on a citation-by-citation basis instead of trying to find solutions, he said.
The county health department is also trying to force fixes there. Officials there recently issued a public health violation letter to the owners, deeming the stairwell to be a public health risk. An inspector returned recently and discovered the owners were “attempting to make progress” but that there were still issues, said county spokesman Justin Sayles.
The department will conduct another inspection this week and, if the issue is not resolved, officials will bring the owners to a hearing and potentially hit them with penalties or fines, Sayles said.
Six days after the Feb. 5 inspection, Jeremy Fiorino, 37, of Syracuse, was found dead in the stairwell. He did not live in the building, police said. An autopsy is being conducted, a police spokesman said.
Green declined to comment on the death, citing the investigation.
Steady rental income
The pandemic has been challenging for the company, Green said. The owners lost income from tenants who lost their jobs. Problem tenants are staying put, he said.
But 40% of the property’s income has been unaffected by the pandemic. That’s because the property gets rent from various government and nonprofit organizations on behalf of tenants. In any given month, about $100,000 of the $250,000 the property receives in rent income comes from these organizations.
The company also got between $350,000 and $1 million in forgivable Payment Protection Program loans from the federal stimulus bill passed last year. Green said the money went to retain staff throughout the company.
The amount of income Skyline receives from the organizations demonstrates its strategic location in the impoverished North Side. It’s a convenient and affordable place near many social services helping people with mental health issues, disabilities and/or substance abuse problems.
The biggest contributor is Helio Health, a large non-profit social service provider which pays about $46,000 in rent each month, according to a rental roll Green’s company filed in its online sales listing.
The number of Helio apartments grew in the past year to 74, when it took over Central New York Services.
Sixty-nine of Helio’s tenants are formerly homeless. The federal government contracts with Helio to provide housing and case management.
Jeremy Klemanski, Helio’s chief executive officer, said the organization is trying to move its tenants out, though that’s difficult during the pandemic. With evictions on pause and a wrecked economy, few apartments open, he said.
In an interview Wednesday evening, he said 21 of the leases have expired there, and the organization will soon notify the owners that they will not renew them.
The building initially was attractive to Helio because of its proximity to services and because the owners had no qualms taking tenants like Helio’s, unlike many other apartment complexes. It first began housing clients there in 2006.
But since then, the conditions at the building have worsened, he said, and Helio’s clients face a stigma of living there. It’s also a bad idea to have so many clients clustered in one building. When Helio can, officials there will spread the tenants out across different buildings, he said.
“We’ve been trying to reduce the number of units there for some time,” he said. “The problem is there will be times where you might have to reduce some units, but then you have some folks who are coming from homelessness who need a unit, and… there have been times where you have to take an apartment where you could get it.”
Other organizations that have a significant number of clients in those apartments also declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. Those organizations include Liberty Resources Inc., Chadwick Residence and ARISE.
Enough is enough
Some tenants and organizations that serve them are reaching their breaking point.
Sharon Sherman, executive director of the Greater Syracuse Tenants Network, spoke to an elderly tenant who had trouble getting a physical therapist to come to the building.
“They don’t feel safe. And, you know, the people that are (helping) her, they might not take any more clients, because they don’t feel safe coming in,” Sherman said.
Fasolo, 53, is mostly blind. He rarely left his fifth-floor apartment except to see his family and for doctor’s appointments. The apartment cost $790 a month.
When he did leave, he would be harassed, intimidated or asked to buy drugs from people who he suspects didn’t live in the building. It happened almost every time he ventured out, he said.
His home health aide got the same treatment or worse, he said. He finally decided to move out when he became concerned his aide’s employer, Nascentia, would no longer allow the aide to visit Fasolo.
“The environmental safety is a serious barrier to our providing care there,” said a Nascentia spokeswoman.
The aide declined to comment, but Fasolo said the aide regularly entered Fasolo’s apartment visibly shaking. A few weeks ago, an elevator stopped working midway as the aide and another man rode up to Fasolo’s apartment.
“The guy that he was in there with was out of control, screaming and yelling, swearing, kicking out the door. And while that’s taking place, he’s trying to get a hold of somebody with the emergency button. He’s trying to hear what that person is saying while at the same time trying to talk the other person down,” Fasolo said.
The elevator was stuck for about 15 minutes, Fasolo said. That was just one of the aide’s horror stories.
“He tolerated it until probably the last month or so,” Fasolo said of his aide. “It seemed like it was getting worse and more constant. And he once told me while I was here that he would never abandon me.
“But one time when he came in, I think he probably cried before he got in the apartment. He said, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can keep coming here.’”
Reporter Patrick Lohmann can be reached at PLohmann@Syracuse.com or (315)766-6670.