Forest Hills’ new lender eyes changes

kjahner@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2014 

— The loan on an Garner apartment complex near Town Hall with a troubled recent past has changed hands, which could result in changes for a facility which includes a number of low-income housing units.

Forest Hills Apartments, located across Seventh Avenue from the Forest Hills shopping center, had at least a handful of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban violations over recent years; the 136-unit building has 28 HUD-regulated Section 8 units and another 68 subsidized by housing choice vouchers. It has also been a bit of a hub for crime in recent years.

In December, New York City-based capital company Stabilis purchased the loan from Fannie Mae, a move both Stabilis and the town believe could prove beneficial for the property. The town also says a number of changes have already yielded positive results in addressing crime at Forest Hills and neighboring complexes, and that resident surveys indicate only minor problems.

Town economic developer Tony Beasley said the town had known the property was on the market for “a couple years.” It is unclear whether the owner, Charlotte investor Peter Hubicki, intends to keep the property, sell it, or have Stabilis take it over in foreclosure.

Stabilis, which largely buys underutilized and sometimes financially distressed commercial property, did not disclose the financial terms of its purchase of the bonds owed by Hubicki, nor elaborate on any particular agreements, changes or conditions regarding its relationship with Hubicki.

“For the past four months, Stabilis has paid for and monitored the work performed by the property manager Landura Management Associates to clear all of the violations filed by (HUD),” said a statement produced by Konstantin Shishkin, a spokesperson representing Stabilis. “To date, the work related to a majority of violations has been completed and an HUD inspection is being scheduled for them to independently verify all of the work that has been done.”

Hubicki, a chemist who owns a lead and asbestos removal business in Charlotte called Get the Lead Out, has owned the property since 1998. He characterized the HUD violations as minor: two problematic units and a long-existing mailbox that he said was written up for not being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

HUD confirmed violations. It did not respond to multiple requests for details about their nature, but did say it scheduled a Management and Occupancy Review of the property for last Friday.

“HUD is concerned however about the condition of the apartment complex,” regional HUD spokesman Joseph Phillips said. “Based on a previous low inspection score HUD is also looking at other measures to ensure that the owners improve the condition of the apartment complex for the residents.”

A score of 58 requires property owners to take corrective action.

The Section 8 contracts with Forest Hills remain in place, and Stabilis said it intends to renew them when they expire in 2017. Contracts place requirements on property owners who receive money from the federal government to subsidize Section 8 units.

“The goal remains to improve the property conditions and maintain a safe, affordable and nice place to live for the residents,” Shishkin said.

Beasley said the neighborhoods department has looked closely at the area including Forest Hills and neighboring Westchester Apartments. Beasley said the new buyer can often mean good things.

“Typically what’s happened in the past where I’ve been in a community where we’ve had this happen, it’s usually a positive thing,” Beasley said. “When someone buys the bond it becomes a new source of capital investment.”

Managing a “hot spot”

The complexes in that area have been a focus for Garner police for years.

“It’s not the worst area in Wake County by any means, but if you look at Garner it is kind of a hot spot of street-level-type crimes,” said Garner police Lt. Len Hatcher.

The town included the complex in neighborhood improvement outreach efforts, and distributed surveys to all of Forest Hills’ units. Only 23 were returned, but Beasley said very few indicated dissatisfaction, and those were generally with minor issues.

“It really wasn’t a bad survey that we’d expect (given its purpose),” Beasley said.

Police say recent crime in the area has decreased. According to a data mapping program, the last four months in particular have seen a fraction of the crime – such as drugs, assault, robbery, burglary and sexual assault – as in any of the previous four quarters.

Hatcher said that falls upon a number of factors. Police try to maintain a presence, but that typically isn‘t sufficient he said. Having active property management can be huge; he noted that next door, Westchester Apartments has a similar demographic including low-income housing, but had typically had fewer problems because of what he called strict management.

“You’ve got more power than you realize,” Hatcher said of management. “You pretty much know that if they’re going to be on your rear end if you have a loud party or are smoking dope on the front steps, they’re probably not going to tolerate the bigger stuff.”

Last July, a man visiting an acquaintance at Forest Hills was shot dead in the Westchester Apartments parking lot, a case where Hatcher said the man was being followed and just happened to stop at Westchester.

A fence was also constructed dividing the complexes last year, a cost shared by the property owners. It was designed in part to prevent Forest Hills shopping center shoplifters from escaping through the properties onto back streets to elude police. It also aimed to reduce other cut-through traffic between properties associated with gang and drug activity.

Some residents verified that they had no major complaints living at the complex, and at least one indicated the management at Forest Hills have taken a proactive role.

“If there’s a bad element they tend to get it out of there pretty quickly,” resident Chadwick Strong said.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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