City focuses on improving life at Greene Homes
BRIDGEPORT — A tenant living on the fifth floor of Greene Homes has tried to bring a bit of the holidays to their little corner of the troubled public housing project.
They hung a small Christmas wreath on their door with a sticker — “Give thanks” — next to it.
Walking the site, one can appreciate that person’s ability to remain thankful given their living conditions. Even with the brighter, freshly re-painted walls, the narrow halls and barred windows feel like an institution, not somewhere anyone would choose to live.
And then there are the two options for exiting the building — unreliable elevators that are constantly breaking down, or stairwells so marinated in human waste that a private cleaning company was recently hired to power-wash away the stench.
Some of the city’s homeless population, according to the housing authority, either break-in to Greene Homes five high rise buildings or are let in by relatives, and use the public spaces as their bathrooms.
“It just gets embedded in the concrete,” Diedra Perry, interim director of asset management, said Monday as she walked through one of Greene Homes’ structures off of Highland Avenue.
Minutes earlier, Perry joined Mayor Joe Ganim and other city and Bridgeport Housing Authority officials at a press conference outside during which they pledged to improve the cleanliness and safety of what tenants call The Greenes.
As previously reported, in late November Ganim announced his administration would begin the likely years-long process of decommissioning the low-income, 1950s-era housing complex. City Hall and public housing officials attributed their decision to crime — like the October 2017 murder of 18-year-old Jeri Kollock — and seemingly never-ending and costly maintenance and cleanliness challenges.
But the announcement raised an immediate question. If Greene Homes is not salvageable, but will take years to vacate and tear down, what can be done in the mean time to make life their tolerable?
Ganim on Monday said in the interim the goal is “to improve everywhere we can.”
So the city and housing authority are trying to clean up the public spaces at The Greenes with a power wash and a paint job and install security cameras to battle crime, vandalism and the homeless problem.
“So while residents are here we’re looking to make these five structures the best buildings possible,” James Slaughter, the housing authority’s interim executive director, said.
An irony of The Greenes is that the housing authority’s executive offices are there, yet the development is in such dire condition.
Bettie Cook, who recently joined the city’s public housing commission as the resident representative, lives in another authority property. Cook, who attended Ganim’s press conference Monday and walked through The Greenes afterward with Diedra and Hearst Connecticut Media, said she would not want to live there.
“They waited too late to try and correct the problem,” Cook said. “The buildings might be sound, but they were neglected.”
A lost community
Cook said one of the reasons Greene Homes is now getting so much attention is because of a looming inspection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But Perry said besides her professional commitment to improve the situation for The Greenes’ tenants, she has a personal reason as well — she used to be one of them. Perrywas born and lived there until she was 5, and her grandmother remained after she and her mother moved out.
“This is a part of my heritage and my heart,” Perry said. “I care about these residents, deeply.”
Reflecting on better times, Perry added, “It was a sense of community back in the ’70s and ’80s. ... They don’t have that anymore.”
Tony Manley, hired a year ago as the housing authority’s director of facilities and operations, said he too is on a mission at Greene Homes.
“We want people to live in a decent environment,” Manley said. “Yes, it may be a little late. But nevertheless, we’re going to do our due diligence. ... People should be comfortable where they live.”
Cook said she has faith in Perry and in Manley, adding, “People call me at 4 a.m. (with complaints), I call them.”
Ganim and the other officials had already headed back downtown to City Hall when Greene Homes residents Tasha Taylor and Yamesha Broadnax were walking home. Both young women have lived there for about a year and were aware of the proposal to tear The Greenes down at some future date.
“That’s a good thing,” Broadnax said. “They need to redo it.”
Asked if they felt safe, Taylor said so far she has not experienced any problems. Broadnax paused before answering. She said other than an incident over the summer, she feels okay living there.
“I saw somebody get shot,” Broadnax clarified.
Taylor said she is concerned about what the city and housing authority will do to relocate tenants if the site is decommissioned.
“I don’t want to move from one project to another,” Taylor said.
Earlier, the mayor pledged to keep in touch with The Greenes about residents’ needs and their future.
“We want to communicate better with the residents here,” Ganim said.
Felipe Ramos, who was helping a friend fix up his car in one of Greene Homes’ parking lots, moved in two months ago. The problem with demolishing The Greenes, Ramos said, is there is not enough affordable housing in Bridgeport.
“There’s no apartment you can get. You can’t afford the rent. It’s crazy,” Ramos said.
Ramos said he is not a trouble-maker and so, for him, the development is a safe one.
“We’re just here to live,” Ramos said.