Friendship Manor, the name bestowed on the Stege Avenue public-housing complex in Richmond, implies a peaceful, tranquil and, well, friendly abode. But many of the 75 low-income, elderly and disabled tenants that call Friendship home say it’s becoming anything but that.
At a recent meeting of the complex’s resident council, about a dozen Friendship neighbors aired concerns over what they see as growing levels of crime, loitering and other persistent nuisances that have some of the manor’s eldest tenants “living in fear,” according to Jackie Thompson, the council’s president.
“The seniors are afraid because of the younger population,” said Thompson, a six-year resident of Friendship. “They’re out there playing loud music, hanging around. [The seniors] won’t come out of their apartments now.”
Several Friendship residents told stories of vandalism and drug use around the complex, ranging from petty annoyances to more serious criminal activity. One person complained about a tenant who’d recently brought a prostitute onto the grounds, and Thompson said she recently found a man who’d broken into the complex, fixed a hose to one of the residents’ spigots and was offering passers-by a $10 car wash.
“I haven’t seen so much drug addiction, gambling and drinking out here the whole time I’ve lived here,” Thompson said during the meeting.
Thompson pointed to many of the complex’s younger residents as a cause of the nuisance. Friendship, which was built in the late 1960s, was originally designed as a facility for elderly low-income residents, but in accordance with federal Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines, later began allowing in younger tenants, particularly those with permanent disabilities. Thompson said that a recent influx of younger tenants, many with drug addictions and mental illnesses, has contributed to a growing sense of unease between neighbors.
The manor includes 58 single-story bungalow-style condominiums, and according to Manny Rosario, a deputy director with the Richmond Housing Authority, is split about 50-50 between senior citizens and younger, disabled tenants. People who qualify for public housing pay between $400 and $500 a month in rent, depending on their circumstances.
Police Officer Gary Lewis, who works a beat that includes Friendship Manor and Monterey Pines, its neighboring housing project, attended the meeting and urged residents to call the police if they see criminal activity.
After the meeting, Lewis was hesitant to say there’d been an increase in crime around Friendship, but acknowledged that with school out for the summer, many students from nearby Kennedy High were out on the streets and potentially contributing to the residents’ complaints. “You get a spike [in crime] every now and then,” Lewis said. “It’s summer, and a lot of these kids don’t have jobs. … We just have to stay on top of it.”
Lewis also pointed out that people living at the Monterey Pines project, which is not age-restricted, often walk through Friendship Manor as a shortcut to Cutting Boulevard.
Crime-mapping data available through the police department’s website does not indicate that the area around Friendship Manor is particularly troubled, although the quarter-mile radius around it has been the scene of several recent muggings and car-jackings. Michelle Milam, a crime-prevention specialist with the Richmond Police Department, said the department has been working with the housing authority to try to fight crime around the manor – particularly by encouraging residents to come forward and report neighborhood crime.
Corky Booze, a city council candidate who serves as a “community liaison” for residents at Friendship Manor, also attended the meeting, along with Rosario and Juanita Boddie, a program coordinator with the housing authority.
“This might not be a major [issue] to a lot of other people,” Thompson said of the situation at Friendship, “but it’s major to us. This is where we live.”