The likely new owners of three Green National properties in Syracuse want to turn around the complexes by investing heavily in security, spending millions in upgrades, and evicting non-paying tenants and others.
Clear Investment LLC, a Chicago-based company, is set to purchase The James Apartments, the Chestnut Crossing complex, and Skyline Apartments, for a currently undisclosed sum.
The company plans to invest $7 to $12 million in improvements for all three complexes, which are located along James Street in the city, said CEO Amy Rubenstein. She added the company doesn’t expect to raise rents for current tenants.
Current landlord Green National is owned in part by former Syracuse University football player Tim Green and his son, Troy.
City of Syracuse officials have repeatedly cited the structures for significant violations of property codes, such as a lack of heat, hot water, safety features, and plumbing and electrical fixtures.
“We’re not trying to get these properties to be high-end, luxury places,” Rubenstein said. “We want it to be a place where the general workforce can live in a safe and clean environment that is also quite attractive. We want people to be proud of where they live.”
The investment group will take the first step toward rehabilitating the properties on April 1 by taking over management. A state Supreme Court judge ruled last week the company would be able to do so while the sale with Green National is finalized. The city took Green to court to ask a judge to appoint a third party receiver to collect rent and use the money to address disrepair.
Once the sale goes through, Rubenstein said, the company will work with the city’s Division of Code Enforcement to tackle open property code violations. The properties currently have 21 open citations, along with four designations of areas being unfit for human habitation.
The first thing the company wants to tackle is security and surveillance.
For Rubenstein, Skyline, at 753 James St., presents the biggest challenge to the company. She noted there are severe issues with plumbing, heating, hot water, and vermin infestations that make the building unlivable.
The magnitude of these problems, alongside glaring security issues, could lead to the company shutting down the building and relocating some tenants to either James, at 600 James St., or Chestnut Crossing, at 923 James St.
“If that’s the case, we’re going to work with all of the tenants who are good tenants, who want to pay the rent rate that they have right now,” Rubenstein said, adding that the company would then likely reopen Skyline floor by floor.
Residents of Skyline in particular have said they do not feel safe in the complex and that Green National has not done enough to address safety.
The company was ordered by a judge last year to increase security at Skyline after a woman was murdered in the building in 2021.
“There is, from my standpoint, really no security in these buildings right now,” Rubenstein said. “The doors don’t lock, which is the number one thing. You can’t secure a building without proper entrances. That has led to people being let into that building who don’t belong there.”
JoAnn Smith, who has lived at Skyline since 2018, said she has seen several people who are not residents in the hallways loitering and selling drugs. She said talks with current management tend to be futile.
“They tell us, ‘Well move, then,’” Smith said.
Rubenstein said Clear Investments is still working out with city representatives how to secure the buildings. She noted it has been difficult finding a security company that wants to work at a building with the history of public safety complaints that Skyline has.
In court documents submitted by the city related to the receivership petition, Syracuse Police Department First Deputy Chief Richard Shoff said there have been at least 620 calls to 911 regarding Skyline from July to February.
“In the very beginning, while we’re getting through that we need extra support. We need extra police presence,” Rubenstein said. “We need the support to be able to remove tenants that are not helping our cause. Everyone has got to be on the same page with the fact that not everybody can live in these buildings.”
Other issues, such as the lack of hot water, intermittent heating, and out-of-service elevators could also prove costly. Clear Investment could access a $1 million fund — if a state Supreme Court judge authorizes it at the second receivership hearing on March 24. In its filing, the city requested that $1 million to be treated as a fine that would go toward repairing the buildings.
“You could eat up a million dollars just in elevators and boilers, and maybe that wouldn’t even be enough,” Rubenstein said.
As the company prepares to take over management next month, some tenants’ advocates are concerned about Clear Investment backing out of the deal.
“I am just thinking they get in and they start managing, and then they can’t close on the properties because they are going to want a lesser price once they really know the truth about the conditions in these buildings,” said Sharon Sherman, the executive director of the Greater Syracuse Tenants Network. “Green National is going to be tough about that.”
Sherman questioned whether Clear Investment would be able to generate enough revenue to make the repairs needed. Despite that, Rubenstein said new tenants could pay anywhere from $650 to $1,050 a month, depending on units. Two-bedroom units, she said, are expected to stay under $1,000 a month.
It may be difficult to sort out records of rent payments, Sherman noted, which could lead to a difficult legal case against tenants. Sherman said a similar situation took place at Springfield Gardens Apartments, a property formerly owned by Green National, in which management did not keep track of notices sent to tenants who had not paid rent.
“In terms of catching up on all the arrears, they have a long road ahead,” she said.
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“That’s been one of our challenges, as we’ve explored this, is to feel like we can find a receiver that is up to the task,” the mayor said. “This is a monumental task.”
The notorious apartment building has not had hot water for four days, according to at least one tenant.