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Subsidized housing faulted by some tenants

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GHENT—They are “fearful,” “frustrated” and “wouldn’t recommend” living there. The “there” is the Highpointe Apartments, a 36-unit, 55+ senior community in the Village of Chatham. The non-profit Galvan Foundation, based in Hudson, assumed management of Highpointe in 2014. Galvan also manages units in Philmont and Hudson for a total of 180 units countywide.

Gregory Pickens, a 15-year Highpointe resident and self-appointed spokesperson for at least some of his fellow tenants, has alerted village, county and state officials to conditions at Highpointe that he and other tenants believe threaten their safety and health.

In an email sent Monday, October 4, Gregory Pickens wrote, “Still no heat, water not hot.” In the email Mr. Pickens also cited state law requires that heat must be on by October 1.

Tuesday, October 5, Mr. Pickens read to this reporter a memo from management acknowledging receipt of no-heat complaints. On Monday, October 4, management distributed to tenants a memo explaining that a company was dispatched to the complex to inspect the heating system and that the parts needed to repair it had been ordered.

Mr. Pickens is also concerned about a fire drill in the last week of September, which he said led to injuries suffered by resident Joanne Van Alstyne, 77, who fell during the drill, injuring her right knee and suffering facial abrasions and bruising. “She fell because the outside lights were not on,” Mr. Pickens said. Ms. Van Alstyne was taken to Columbia Memorial hospital in Hudson, where she was held for observation and released the same night.

Mr. Pickens faulted management for holding the fire drill at night without any fire personnel from the Village of Chatham on site. But Village Mayor John Howe says that there is no requirement for fire department personnel to be on site during a fire drill and that any entity can conduct a fire drill without notifying village officials in advance.

Highpointe, a 2-story complex located at 45 Dardess Drive, sits on a hill behind the Chatham mall and the Price Chopper. A Columbia Memorial Hospital facility and a NYSEG office are nearby. It is a short walk to the mall and nearby businesses, but the setting is rural and the lawns and shrubbery are manicured. There are several outdoor communal spaces and a parking lot. The rents are $550 for a one bedroom unit and $850 for two bedrooms.

At first glance Highpointe appears to be a charming residence. As part of an interview last week, Mr. Pickens conducted a tour of the facility and pointed out loose siding, a three-inch drop-off from recently repaired concrete walkways to landscaped grounds, exterior mold build-up on lower siding, shrubbery that extends onto the walkways, improperly installed exhaust systems on laundry room dryers and built-up lint behind the dryers, which clogs the outdoor vent.

In addition to Mr. Pickens, The Columbia Paper interviewed three other long-time Highpointe residents. Saying that they feared retribution from management, the three tenants requested anonymity before speaking about their experiences. The tenants included male and female residents who ranged in age from 77 to 90. All have lived at Highpointe since 2003, when it opened.

A main complaint involves high staff turnover and no on-site manager. In response to a Columbia Paper query, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal press office issued the following statement:

“IRS tax code does not require management to reside or have a presence on-site 24/7, and management and/or staff that is routinely accessible on-site during the week is an accepted management standard for compliance.

“It is our understanding that there is on-site management two days per week.”

The on-site management referred to is apparently a person who cleans common areas, such as the community room, hallways and laundry rooms. According to Mr. Pickens, the cleaner is on site two days per week for two hours per day.

Other general complaints from tenants include “unresponsiveness” to repair requests, which are met with what they describe as intimidation and bullying “especially of women tenants.” There is a system for tenants to make repair requests via telephone, but the residents say it is ineffective as are some repairs and maintenance. The tenants interviewed also say that efforts by residents to make repairs and do maintenance themselves have been met with “threats of eviction.”

Mr. Pickens, who has pressed Galvan to be more “caring” and responsive to residents’ needs, identified access to the on-site activity room as an on-going source of contention. The room had been used as a gymnasium and a space for yoga since 2003. But in a memo dated January 25, 2021 management informed tenants that the exercise room would be closed based on a recommendation from the county Department of Health due to Covid-19 protocols. The memo states that the gym would be reopened.

But Mr. Pickens said that the county health department denied making such a recommendation when he contacted the department about the closing. Mr. Pickens added that in February he and some other tenants cleaned and cleared the room of unwanted furniture and that he spent $1,800 of his own money to hire a truck “to remove the old stuff and to upgrade” the exercise equipment, including a “treadmill, exercise bike, weight bench and steppers.”

Mr. Pickens received a letter in early April from Susan Peterson, Galvan compliance manager and Highpointe manager. She notes in the letter “exercise equipment… is not an amenity we are required to provide.” But the letter acknowledges Galvan had allowed the room over the years to “morph into a makeshift gym” and pledged “we are committed to continuing to allow our tenants to utilize this space for exercising.”

But a May 27 management memo to tenants states that after consulting with “our insurance provider” the management decided the exercise equipment must be removed because it was not property of the Galvan Foundation and Galvan could not guarantee its safety. The memo set a June 30 deadline for compliance. A June 19 memo reiterates in all capital letters: “No unwanted items are to be left,” adding, “it is the tenants’ responsibility to get rid of such items.”

Beginning in February, Mr. Pickens said, management alleged he was in violation of his lease and threatened him with eviction. At his request, the Columbia County Office for the Aging (OFA) assigned attorney RosaLee Charpentier to represent him. Mr. Pickens credited Ms. Charpentier with getting the deadline to remove the exercise equipment extended from June 30 to September 29.

In September management offered a compromise to arrange for transportation to an off-site gym for one hour, twice a week, via the OFA. Rides would require at least three participants. Mr. Pickens noted that such an arrangement would require tenants to purchase a gym membership and would be very inconvenient, “especially in the winter months.” He suggested that Galvan “could just buy exercise equipment.”

Mr. Pickens has had some success getting tenants’ concerns addressed after he has contacted local officials. Village of Chatham Building Inspector Erin Reis cited management for failure to repair a section of guardrail damaged when a truck backed into it. Management was also required to repair crumbling concrete walkways.

In October 2020 Assembly member Didi Barrett (D-106th) sent a letter to the state Division of Homes and Community Renewal, which oversees Highpointe, concerning issues of sanitation, namely a failure to adequately clean common areas. Mr. Pickens said that management contracted with a new vendor about six months ago and that the common areas have been kept clean. Also, a bid by management to close the community room was nixed by local fire officials because the room includes an exit door.

An octogenarian tenant who says she is “not happy with what’s going on here” also said she “loves” her apartment, citing the location and the setting. “I don’t want to move,” she said. “I can only do so much.”

The Galvan Foundation has not responded to a message asking for comment before press deadline.

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