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East Side Towers Overhauled By Private Owners

Until two years ago, the Sawyer Towers housing project was owned by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority. But in 2010, the towers, which dominate the Mount Vernon neighborhood, were sold to a Massachusetts company. Their new name is Skyview Towers and they're under private ownerships. "We have the free wi-fi everywhere down in the common areas, so we actually have three rooms where students can come or anyone can come," says Sarah Tucker, the senior property manager at Skyview Towers. Amenities at the towers just off Interstate 670 include five fitness areas, a gym, billiards room, and a community room. VTT Management in Framingham, Massachusetts bought the 15-story buildings for $2 million and spent $10 million renovating them. Once they were designated for lower-income seniors and the disabled. Back then, Tucker says, there were many crime problems.

"This was a pretty scary place. There were a lot of drugs sold out of it."

Tucker says now the Towers are surrounded by a wrought iron gate, and there's a private security service at night. "We don't take people who have any kind of felony backgrounds, or misdemeanor drug convictions, no evictions. So we're very selective of who are tenants are. So that has helped a lot." Tucker says residents include people from all walks of life including college students, hospital workers and retired senior citizens. There's a 95 percent occupancy rate for the nearly 400 apartments. 37-year-old Sydney Smith moved in shortly after the renovated towers opened in July 2010. He rents a small one-bedroom apartment for $550 a month, utilities and cable T.V. included. He rides the city bus to his job. "For my needs it's working out well," Smith says. "I'm able to work, relax and interact with my neighbors on a pretty frequent basis." Smith says there's little crime and what he knows about comes from outside the gates. "Occasionally you'll have people that hop the fence, things of that nature and just like with any place that has a gated community you have those that like to come in and do damage or to steal but it's on a rare occasion." On this day at Skyview Towers, Senior Property Manager Sarah Tucker called police because for a domestic squabble between a couple. She says about once a month there's a problem on the property that requires the authorities. On a nearby street, Charles Greene washes his car. He says the new ownership of the Skyview Towers has brought positive changes.

"It's not as rowdy as it used to be but it's getting better," Greene says.

Reporter: "So what do you think helped to change that and make the rowdiness go down now? Greene: "More police officers." But not everyone agrees with the private ownership of what were once public housing units. They worry not enough is being done to provide an affordable place to live for low-income residents. VTT Management has also purchased Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

It's a sprawling collection of more than 300 town homes that the company is renovating. But the Columbus Housing Authority says more changes are on the way. Chief Operating Officer at the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, Tracey Rudy, says a master plan is still being developed for Poindexter Village, the city's oldest public housing project. "What we're doing is providing higher quality housing to our residents in neighborhoods of their choice." The homes here at the 70-year-old Poindexter Village will be demolished. Housing officials say about 64 people still live here and are slowly moving out. More than 400 families once called this home. Former resident of Poindexter Village, Barbara Cunningham moved last year to Jenkins Terrace on East Broad Street. She prefers her new home. "It's nice and clean and friendly you know. Plenty space you know for your furniture and stuff. You ain't got be crowded up," Cunningham says. And while the housing authority also builds new public housing on the west and south sides…there is still a backlog of people waiting for affordable homes.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.