WILKES-BARRE -- A congressman got together with local officials in Wilkes-Barre Wednesday morning to talk about a plan to deal with the recent crime and violations at the Sherman Hills housing project.
More than a dozen federal and state politicians, community leaders, and a pastor met inside the Penn Place building to talk about the formation of a new task force.
Members of this task force say it is voluntary and independent of police and federal housing officials.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton accused the owners of Sherman Hills of misleading Newswatch 16 as well as the city. He says Park Management Incorporated raked in cash as safety equipment started breaking and crime worsened.
One week after federal housing officials reported that broken security cameras, under-staffing, and mismanagement have contributed to crime in and around Sherman Hills in Wilkes-Barre.
Congressman Matt Cartwright announced a new task force to try to identify and fix the root of the problems.
"Closing down that housing complex is a last resort because of the disruption it would do to their families, because of what would remain if that happened. It could go from back to worse,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright /(D) 17th District.
When Newswatch 16 tracked down the owners of Sherman Hills in Brooklyn, New York earlier this month, a property manager said off duty Wilkes-Barre police officers are still working as hired security and surveillance cameras at Sherman Hills were fixed.
Mayor Tom Leighton says that is not true, even though he says Sherman Hills pulled in an estimated $2.4 million last year in rent and federal subsidies.
"There's been a lot of profit and we pointed that out to them. It’s not like they’re not making sufficient money up there. They’re not maintaining the property, which was clearly evident in the report by HUD,” Mayor Leighton said.
People who live at Sherman Hills, including an expectant mother, tell us that they are hopeful that this task force will bring changes, but they believe that the move is motivated by the city’s image issues.
“They really need to figure out what the problem is. Don’t keep trying to put everybody in as a whole, it's not right. They’re trying to shut us down and it's not everybody. Do something. Really come and see what the problem is."
First Baptist Church Pastor Shawn Walker says he joined the task force because he spent some of his younger years at Sherman Hills.
"It is important to the human fabric, and they need to continue to have hope, while myself and others from community start to try and right this wrong,” Pastor Walker said.
The politicians and leaders of community groups that make up the task force say they won't set any goals until after they meet with the owners of Sherman Hills. That's expected to happen sometime next month.
Task force members also say it's up to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine if the owners of Sherman Hills should be sanctioned.
Wilkes-Barre police say there have been drug deals, burglaries, several shootings, and just recently, a stabbing and a homicide at or near the low income housing complex property just off Coal Street.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the owners of Sherman Hills until Monday to explain how they plan to fix broken surveillance cameras, security systems, and other issues.