Almost a month has passed since a state judge ordered that Clear Investment Group could take over the management of a majority of Green National’s portfolio of rental properties in Syracuse, including the infamous Skyline Apartments. And the company has already made some tangible improvements, residents say.
Larry Fuller, a longtime resident of Skyline, said Clear’s hiring of armed security almost immediately after they took over management has made him feel much safer.
“They’re watching what is going on,” he said. “They’re inside doing their work.”
Safety has been a major issue raised by tenants in the past. Concerns from city and public safety officials reached new levels in 2021 when a woman was murdered inside the buildings.
Clear Investment has been in charge of Skyline, Chestnut Crossing, and The James since the start of April and has pledged to spend about $7.7 million to rehabilitate those properties, court records show. The group plans to spend close to an additional $7.6 million to renovate the Vincent complex – a move that would require many current tenants to move.
The real estate company came into the picture earlier this year, after city officials filed a legal action against Green National following years of severe neglect for the living conditions at their properties. City officials sought to redirect rent payments made by tenants and government agencies toward fixing issues like faulty boilers and heating fixtures and vermin infestations.
Clear, based out of Chicago, is set to eventually purchase Vincent from Green National, the company partially owned by Tim Green, a former NFL player, and operated by his son Troy. A judge ruled last week the sale of Vincent Apartments on Roney Lane, as well as Skyline, Chestnut Crossing, and The James apartments — all located on James Street — must occur before the end of June.
Known for taking on troubled properties in other states, investing in renovations, and later selling the buildings, Clear has laid out a plan for how to address the major issues with the buildings. Clear officials note they plan to vacate the Skyline and Vincent Apartments in the next six months to be able to fully renovate the apartments. Officials said they hope to be able to renovate up to five apartments per building per month.
Despite the improvements to life at Skyline since Clear took over, concerns about having to move while Skyline is being overhauled still linger. Tenants at Skyline and Vincent who strike a deal with the company would be moved to The James or Chestnut Crossing for an entire year. That process is set to start sometime in May, and tenants will have about 60 days to move after they receive a notice.
Amy Rubenstein, CEO of Clear Investment Group, told Central Current in March the company planned to move “tenants who are good tenants, who want to pay the rent rate that they have right now” to open apartments at the Chestnut and James buildings while contractors work to upgrade Skyline and Vincent.
Skyline and Vincent tenants will be asked if they want to move to the other properties if they haven’t participated in criminal activity while living in a Green National property and if they haven’t violated their lease. Tenants will also be asked to agree that the property they’ll occupy is going to stay clean and safe.
Residents and tenants advocates say they are unsure if there will be enough units at The James and Chestnut Crossing to accommodate people from Skyline and Vincent. Skyline has 352 apartments and Vincent has 267. Even if all those apartments aren’t occupied, the number of combined units at both Chestnut and The James is around 200.
“I am willing to move, but I just want to know if there are going to be enough apartments for everyone,” Fuller said.
Rubenstein and Clear’s Director of Investments Lindsay Rodriguez, who tenants say has been a constant point of contact, did not respond to several inquiries on the number of vacant units at Chestnut and James, the number of tenants they expect to move there, or the feasibility of accommodating all their current tenants.
Sharon Sherman, the executive director of the Greater Syracuse Tenants Network, said the numbers of tenants and their accommodations do not add up.
“There is no easy answer to this problem,” she said. “I do not want to be entirely negative about Clear, I just think they were put into an impossible situation.”
A potential solution, Sherman said, would be to move everyone to the three floors at the bottom and start remodeling at the top. But even that presents its own set of issues.
“Continuing to pay for that level of security is going to be expensive, and those units also have problems,” she said. “This is what happens when a property reaches this stage. You spend time trying to fix something and then something else breaks.”
A potential sale of all four complexes to Clear would be the resolution to a yearslong conflict between Green National and the city of Syracuse. The Syracuse Division of Code Enforcement has cited the Greens’ properties for hundreds of breaches of the city’s property code and, in the last six months alone, first responders have tended to more than 1,500 calls from residents concerned for their safety or that of others.
“I am going to give (Clear Investment Group) a chance and hope for the best,” Fuller said. “It can’t be any worse than what we’ve been going through here these last few years.”
Below are some of the planned upgrades for the apartment complexes based on documents submitted to the court:
- The company plans to fumigate the entire complex to address bug infestations, as well as upgrade all the boilers and address all plumbing issues throughout the buildings once they have been vacated.
- The renovated apartments will have new floors, paint, new cabinets and counters where needed. Contractors will also update light and heating fixtures and add new appliances where needed.
- The roofs at all Skyline buildings will be replaced to address leaks.
- Clear plans to bring in city code inspectors at different instances of their property rehabilitation timeline to ensure they are addressing code violations. There are nine open code violations at Skyline, according to the city of Syracuse’s open data portal.
Chestnut Crossing and James Apartments
- Clear officials plan to reopen Chestnut’s management office, which residents say has been closed due to water damage stemming from a water pipe that burst late last year. This office will serve both Chestnut and The James, and will help with work orders being completed and tenants’ concerns being addressed.
- Officials plan to organize a walkthrough of each unit with open code violations to ensure the citations have been addressed. There are 10 open violations at Chestnut and another 10 at the James.
- All 12 boilers at Chestnut will be replaced with new hot water tanks, heating systems and pumps.
- Repairs to the roofs will start around August due to weather and material shipping delays.
- Pest control will start first at vacant units. Exterminators will also target occupied units and common areas on an as-needed basis.
- The company plans to lock front and back doors with a key fob system similar to the one at Skyline.
- Every entry point will also have a camera, and that surveillance system will be accessible to the Syracuse Police Department 24/7.
- The boilers will be repaired and or replaced on a case by case basis.
- The buildings will be fumigated to address pests.
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One study projects that two-thirds of all renter households in the county could receive protections under the “good cause” proposal.
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.
“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.
The city of Syracuse took the Greens to court to request the properties including Skyline Apartments be put into a receivership.