Read the complete Sherman Hills response at timesleader.com.
WILKES-BARRE — The same day that the response of the troubled Sherman Hills apartment complex to a federal inspection was released, news comes that the complex is about to be sold. U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, who founded a task force to address problems at the crime-ridden complex after two young girls were shot there last August, met Thursday with eight representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including Regional Director Jane Vincent, he said in a news release. HUD officials revealed at the meeting that the property is under contract of sale with a transfer date target of April 1, Cartwright said. The new owner, New Jersey-based Treetop Development, which has no overlapping ownership with the current owners, Sherman Hills Realty, also will serve as property manager of the Sherman Hills property, Cartwright said, noting that Treetop has had success working with HUD in the past. The apartment complex is currently owned by a Brooklyn-based company, Sherman Hills Realty. Cartwright said the task force has requested a meeting with representatives from Treetop Development. “I am guardedly optimistic at today's news,” said Cartwright. “Follow-up will be key to ensuring that both (current property manager) Park Management and Treetop follow through with their responsibilities, specifically promises made to HUD to properly repair and secure the property.” Repairs promised Cartwright met with Vincent in February to get an update on progress at Sherman Hills and insisted on behalf of the task force that, in the event of a sale, any new owner must make the repairs that have already been promised. Upon taking ownership of the property, Treetop will be responsible for continuing repairs to the property to bring it up to code. Promised repairs and modifications include an 8-foot-tall perimeter fence and gated guard house with 24-hour security and access to a newly installed security camera system. Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton said his administration will remain vigilant with city inspections and monitoring implementation of the security plan. “We welcome any property owner into our city that shares our vision for safe and affordable housing in our neighborhoods,” he said. State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, another task force member, said he's confident “the strong security conditions” ordered by HUD “will produce a more secure housing complex and, ultimately, a safer Wilkes-Barre.” State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, another task force member, was also encouraged by the sale and “apparent cooperation” of Treetop. Subhead needed The task force was formed in response to a late 2013 report by HUD, which paid Sherman Hills $1.7 million in 2013 to provide low-income housing at the 344-unit complex, about deficiencies and safety problems at the property. HUD conducted an inspection on Sept. 17. Sherman Hills filed a response to HUD's inspection report on or around Dec. 2, and The Times Leader requested a copy of that response on Dec. 4. HUD provided the response on Thursday, having redacted information that constitutes trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential. In the response, Sherman Hills notes that it hired a consultant, The McLane Group, to conduct an assessment of the security of the property, which it did on Oct. 7. Although the consultant's assessment was conducted after HUD's inspection, “the property, including its exterior and common areas, was in essentially the same condition as when the (HUD inspection) occurred and therefore, the report should not be disregarded simply because the assessment occurred after (HUD's inspection),” the response states. Sherman Hills addresses each deficiency listed by HUD and disputes many of them based on the McLane report. Here are some examples: • Deficiency: The property exterior and common areas were not clean, free of graffiti, debris and damage. • Response: The McLane Group noted clean conditions on every floor of the buildings, including laundry rooms and garbage chute areas, and that the exterior of the buildings were in good condition. • Deficiency: Walkways between certain buildings were rocky, uneven and covered with overgrown vegetation, exposed tree roots and soil erosion. • Response: The areas identified as walkways are not intended to be walkways. The only intended walkways are cement pathways. • Deficiency: Sixty percent of the exterior lighting was not in working order. • Response: This is inaccurate. The HUD inspection was conducted during daylight hours and the inspector did not request the lights to be turned on. • Deficiency: Security cameras at Buildings 308 and 328 were not functioning and the wiring was disconnected from the computer. In addition, management told HUD the security system as a whole was not working and that management was in the process of obtaining a contractor to make necessary repairs and obtaining bids to upgrade the security security for all buildings. • Response: This is not accurate. The camera systems in Buildings 308 and 328 were working, and the wiring was not disconnected from the computer. The cameras, recording equipment and computer were not viewed by HUD during the inspection; HUD was accompanied by management at all times. Secondly, it is a wireless system and does not have wires to be disconnected.