CAMDEN, NJ — Respiratory issues due to “caking mold.” Sewage back-ups making showers and brushing teeth impossible. Safety issues due to exposed floors, dilapidated walls and unwanted vermin including cockroaches, mice and cats.
Dozens of residents spilled into City Hall on Tuesday calling the conditions at Camden's Crestbury Apartments a "crisis."
The City Council meeting escalated to the point where a police officer approached a resident during her comments.
“We’re not getting the help we need,” Jazmin Modera said, as she broke down in tears. “People asking for services are getting letters saying they owe [money] and they’re evicting us. I tried getting legal services to help, and they couldn’t...now I’m homeless.”
The incoming owners of the Crestbury Apartments, which contain a little over 390 units in the southern part of the city, recently secured a 30-year tax abatement to dedicate $24 million in renovations to the apartments.
Since they won't fully take the reins until later this year, the project likely won’t see changes materialize until 2022.
“We’re talking about somewhere between 15 and 18 months of renovations. I'm saying to you, there's no way the residents of Crestbury could live in those kinds of conditions for the next few years,” said Pastor Amir Khan, who has led efforts in the area.
The apartments have changed hands three times over the last three and a half years.
Lakeisha Stevens, a Crestbury resident for twenty years, arrived at the meeting from the hospital to speak of asthma issues stemming from apartment conditions that she, her daughter and other relatives have had to deal with.
A hospital tag remained cuffed around her wrist.
Another walked up to the mic and said in Spanish that the management at the apartments “no sirven” — meaning, “don’t work.”
Crestbury managers did not immediately respond for comment.
Issues don’t let up
Camden Councilwoman Shaneka Boucher, who represents Ward 1 where the apartments are located, said over 200 citations have been issued as part of her continued visits to the apartments.
“If there're residents who need me to speak with them, or they want to send something into my office, I always go and follow up on it,” said Boucher, who herself has family living at Crestbury. “Every single resident that I've heard from I have followed up with.”
An attorney for the new owners, Hudson Valley Property Group, has said money for the renovations coming from the state were contingent on a 30-year abatement.
After the meeting, Khan told TAPinto Camden that he conceded the point but the city council, “could be doing a lot more to help the residents.”
“If there was a coronavirus running through the apartments, you would be there like that,” said Loren Little, who moved to the Crestbury Apartments six months ago. “I want to know, how can in 2020 in America, there be people who are scared to drink their own water...to have to boil it.”
Little specifically targeted Boucher during her comments, causing Vice President Marilyn Torres to step in and ask that she address her by name. A police officer soon approached Little, but ultimately did not take action.
Council President Curtis Jenkins and Councilwoman Felisha Reyes-Morton were not present at the meeting. Council members Angel Fuentes and Victor Carstarphen said they take Boucher’s lead as far as efforts to address ongoing concerns at the apartments.
Caranna Freeman, who recently made headlines when a backup caused raw sewage and feces to rise from her drains, said at the meeting that she’s scared of putting her son in the tub and refuses to continue at the apartments as is.
Other issues named during the meeting: trash piling up, water accumulating below floors and unresponsive managers.
Khan referred to the issues at the apartments as a “health crisis” that needs to be dealt with “expeditiously.”
“The residents have a right to express their concerns about Crestbury,” Boucher told TAPinto Camden after the meeting. “We are going to do everything that we can to make that space more legal and follow up on any violations we hear about. But again, they have the right to feel the way they do.”
A petition with over 100 signatures was submitted to the council on behalf of the residents.