But some stepped-up security measures are being debated, as the HHA recently stepped up the process of evicting families if one member of the household is convicted of an alleged drug infraction or other crime.
Some in the housing projects feel that it is not fair to evict an entire family because of one person's misdeeds. In the last six months, 40 "notices to cease," which are the first step in an eviction process, have been issued to households found to be in violation of the "one-strike policy." There were 12 in the last week alone.
"Should anyone be arrested for drug use, sales, or violent crime, the whole family will be evicted," said Executive Director Robert DiVincent, who has worked with the Hoboken Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration to cleanse the low-income housing development of drugs.
He added, "You can never eliminate the drug problem completely. It can't be eliminated throughout the country. But you can't ignore it. You have to take aggressive measures to curtail it."
While many people support the policy, some feel it can be excessive.
One such individual is lifelong Hoboken resident and Housing Authority Commissioner Perry Belfiore. "It's a blunt instrument that should be refined on a case by case basis," said Belfiore. "It has to be individualized, there shouldn't be any absolutes."
Belfiore was joined by 40 residents of the buildings at a City Council meeting two weeks ago, to voice their concerns. Many of those present were either facing eviction or had family members who had been evicted.
Several measures are being installed to cut down on drug sales and other crimes in the area.
In order to give tenants the ability to control who has access to their buildings, new electronic key systems are being installed at the entrance to every building, and will all be ready by the end of the year. The keypads also enable management to monitor who is entering what building, and when.
An intercom system will accompany the key cards, allowing tenants to let in guests without having to walk down several flights of stairs, which is thought to have been the reason why so many of the current turn-key locks have been purposely broken.
In addition to upgrading the building's entrances, lights will be added to the immediate area and trees, which had previously obstructed existing lights, will be cut back.
Lastly, 10 cameras with scan and zoom capabilities have been strategically placed throughout the projects with plans of adding more in the near future.
The cameras, which can be viewed over the internet, are used by Hoboken's Police and HHA Management to observe the projects 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Although Belfiore applauds the additional cameras, he fears that much of the crime that once took place on the outside has now moved inside the buildings, making the situation even more difficult for HHA residents. DiVincent is considering the possibility of adding cameras inside certain buildings.
New playgrounds and grills
Various other quality-of-life improvements are being made.
A total of eight playgrounds are to be added to the housing development by the spring of next year. Three of these playgrounds have already been opened, and a fourth in the area of the Andrew Jackson projects is set to open by September.
A regulation-sized basketball court has also been added directly across from the playground and is set to open by September as well.
For the adults in the community, a passive recreation area that will consist of grills and benches will be created in both Columbus Gardens and Andrew Jackson by the spring of 2007. The grills will be locked and leased out to residents in order to ensure that they are being properly cared for.
Structural improvements are also being done throughout the development, such as the re-welding of interior stairways that exhibit signs of corrosion, replacement of cracked concrete walkways, and removal of the deteriorating brick walls.
The windows in the four towers known as Harrison Gardens will be replaced.
"A new day is dawning for the Housing Authority," said 4th Ward Councilman and HHA Commissioner Christopher Campos, who is himself a product of the city's projects. "For too many years, people have been neglected down here. That's all changing."
Senior living facilities will also benefit from the improvements being made over the next year. At Monroe Gardens, many of the balconies that had concrete hanging from their base are in the process of being repaired, while the building's boilers are being retooled in preparation for the coming winter.
Boilers throughout the Housing Authority are having similar procedures done to ensure that the heating system is ready when the temperature drops. Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.