Neighbors oppose housing plan

An angry and extremely vocal crowd of about 50 people spent the better part of two hours Tuesday night telling Bellevue Council why they did not want a transitional housing program operating in the borough.

The program in question is being implemented by the Zero Six Eight company originally formed to provide ex-convicts with job training and opportunities in the construction field. According to company founder Daniel Bull, the housing program that is currently being implemented on Laurel Avenue and Gilliland Place will provide safe housing opportunities to a wide variety of people who otherwise might be at the mercy of slumlords. Bull stated in an interview last week that he is working with various social service agencies and programs to place clients that include disabled veterans and people with mental health issues as well as those with criminal records.

As notices informing prior tenants that their leases would not be renewed went out, and new people began moving in over the last few weeks, residents of the area began reaching out to elected officials to express their concerns.

The overwhelming theme of the comments at Tuesday’s meeting was that residents living near the project no longer feel safe. One incident reported was that of a man who appeared to be intoxicated, used a racial epithet and threatened someone with a knife. One woman from Laurel Avenue said that a man followed her and then attempted to break into her house. Several residents spoke about a man who was walking and standing in the area, staring at people and houses.

“One of these nuts was walking down the street looking at houses,” said a resident of nearby Grant Avenue, who added that he followed the man and saw him enter one of the row houses on Laurel.

One man said that his wife and child have been staying with his mother-in-law because they are afraid to be in their own home. Another asked that a crossing guard be placed in the area to keep an eye on children who are walking to school. Just that day, he said, he and his children had encountered “someone who looked like they didn’t belong there.” Another resident said that it would be difficult to know who was a resident and who was up to no good because the housing program tenants are expected to turn over frequently.

“What is going to be done to guarantee my safety?,” one woman asked.

Another woman said that houses in the area had garbage on their porches and people were using blankets and garbage bags for curtains. She said that the “people look like they just came from under a bridge somewhere.”

Police Chief Matt Sentner said that he would meet with residents of the area to help them set up a neighborhood watch program. That meeting will be held in the borough hall on Wednesday, May 16, at 6 p.m.

Police records show a handful of calls to the area in the last two weeks. Most of the calls involved Brandon George, 35, of 219 Laurel Ave., who was twice arrested/cited by Bellevue Police in the past week. George was reported to be involved in the incident involving the racial slur and also reported to be armed with a knife and intoxicated.

Another message that came from the citizens was that they felt it was wrong for longtime residents to lose their rented homes.

“I’m disgusted that a private company is doing this to people,” said council member Jodi Hause.

Borough solicitor Matt Racunas said that he would be researching the legality of the transitional housing program, but cautioned residents that if the property use is legal under the zoning code and other laws, there might be little that the borough can do to stop the program.

That statement did not faze the most vocal opponents. Council member Linda Woshner said, “I don’t want that there and I don’t care what I have to do, it’s not going to be there.” One man urged council to use code enforcement and police to discourage the program. “If you harass people enough they’re going to move,” he said. Sentner said that he would instruct his officers to write citations for every possible infraction. “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” the chief said.

Racunas asked elected officials to refrain from making any further public statements until he has completed his research and delivered an opinion, which he expected to do by the end of the week.