PATERSON, NJ - Residents of Paterson’s Congdon Mill Apartments are calling for their property management group to provide enhanced security, asserting that trespassers have consistently breached the complex for months with minimal resistance.
Pictures and videos of the affordable housing community appear to show fecal matter in its hallways and two makeshift dwellings—one in the basement and one in an alcove by the roof—that tenants claim homeless individuals left behind. They said that Alexa Management, the corporation overseeing the 66-unit structure, eventually cleaned up those issues but failed to implement enough safeguards to prevent future invasions.
“I think the first step would be assessing the property,” said Paula Alford, a leader of Congdon Mill’s tenants’ association who lives there with her 9- and 15-year-old sons. “We need to look at the property and see from a vagrant standpoint…how they’re accessing the building, and then when we can see where the bleeding is happening, you could put in some processes to stop it.”
Located at 13 ½ Van Houten St., the apartments border the Passaic River and the dilapidated remnants of the Allied Textile Printing factory. While the area is known as a place where people congregate to use heroin, recent efforts by the City of Paterson and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including installing a fence around the facility, are aimed at restricting vagrancy. Alford expressed fear that those displaced from the factory will seek shelter in her building, especially with winter approaching.
Longstreet Development, a Paterson-based construction group that built residences within the defunct mill, operates Alexa Management. TAPinto contacted Alexa Management Property Manager Allyson Burzinski on Nov. 20 and she agreed to review an emailed list of interview questions focused on the residents’ accusations and deterrents to trespassing that they proposed.
As of publication, Burzinski had not replied to the list or answered a follow-up for comment.
“I would welcome dialogue with [Alexa Management] so they realize how powerful their presence is,” Nicholas Rodriguez, a tenant of eight years, said.
The situation reached a boiling point for Alford on Oct. 6, when she contacted law enforcement alleging that a man confronted her with a pocketknife on the building’s fifth floor. According to the police report from that day, officers scanned the corridors and roof but never found him.
Rodriguez suggested that the events detailed in the report were not the only incident involving the roof. He added that he noticed someone staring at him through the skylight of his fifth floor unit in June, and that several of his neighbors also caught an observer watching them through their ceiling windows this summer.
And Alford’s tenants’ association co-president, Samantha Bryant, suspected that a homeless person trailed her to her apartment as she arrived home from work one late September night. Bryant said she stopped short of her unit as a precaution, watching the individual pass her and descend the stairs toward the basement.
“I have a 16-year-old daughter, so I’m always telling her to be careful of and watch her surroundings, always stay off the phone when you’re in the hallway coming in and out of the building, and just watch,” Bryant said. “And if [she does] see something, contact me on the phone so that I can either come outside to walk her in or meet her halfway.”
Alford stated that she and Bryant later took two trips down to the basement to retrace the person’s path. Initially, Alford claimed that they found blankets, bags of clothes, and human waste. Then, they allegedly discovered someone using the area for refuge upon returning.
After police searched Congdon Mill in October, Alford credited Alexa Management with barricading entrances to the roof and removing any trespassers’ bedding and possessions. But the tenants did not believe those measures were enough to block outsiders from the premises.
“It would be advisable that they reinstate the night shift guard,” Rodriguez said, explaining that Alexa Management ceased employing an evening watchperson in 2018. “It would be very important for them to secure all the empty apartments. There needs to be better communication in writing and information in terms of in case of an emergency…[and] not just ‘you’ve got to call 911.’”
The residents first told local law enforcement about the presence of potential intruders at a community meeting last winter according to Jerry Speziale, public safety director for the the City of Paterson. Speziale stressed that police cannot intervene and require a property manager to augment security, but he emphasized that officers will respond to any reports of trespassing in the development.
“That’s our job, to make sure that police, security, safety, fire safety, all that encompassed, will be there,” Speziale said. “But I understand their concerns and…if someone is in there illegally and remaining or setting something up, all you need to do is call us.”
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.