Investment coming to Charleston’s Bridgeview Village Apartments after years of neglect

Investment coming to Charleston’s Bridgeview Village Apartments after years of neglect

Pearl Samuels stood by the breezeway, arms akimbo and smoking a cigarette as she glanced at the boxes piled against a wall outside her apartment and then back at a young man crossing a courtyard at the Bridgeview Village apartment complex.

It had been raining all week and the ground was soaked on this day in late February. Gray clouds hung low, dampening the mood at the typically lively community tucked away on the upper end of the Charleston peninsula.

Samuels shouted out, “Your mom get one?”

“No,” said the young man, sauntering over.

A community organization had dropped off meal boxes filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt and other healthy foods for residents of this long-neglected community. Samuels was in charge of making sure each box got to her neighbors in greatest need — elderly residents, young families and the infirm.

Pearl Samuels waves to a school bus passing through the neighborhood of Bridgeview Village apartments on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Formerly known as Bayside Manor, Bridgeview Village is the largest privately owned affordable housing complex on the rapidly gentrifying Charleston peninsula. Its 300 apartment units are a boon to residents who can’t afford Charleston’s skyrocketing rental rates.

Bridgeview’s recent sale to a nonprofit housing group that is leasing the complex to Standard Communities — the affordable housing division of Standard Cos. — has been heralded by Charleston officials as a win for residents.

Under the agreement, Standard plans to invest $70,000 per unit in renovations and to build a new community center from the ground up, said Tommy Attridge, the company’s director of Southeast Production.

The deal also extended federal low-income housing tax credits, guaranteeing that Bridgeview remains affordable for the next 30 years.

With renovations and promises of additional investment, residents like Samuels said they’re cautiously optimistic and that they’re continuing to work to repair the community’s unfair reputation for drug activity and violence.

An officer-involved shooting in late December and the death of a man weeks later who was struck by an errant bullet as he slept in his bed next to his wife, have highlighted the ongoing impact of crime.

Samuels, who is more apt to call the apartments by their former name, Bayside, acknowledges the challenges but says focusing on the violence is a disservice to families like hers who are proud of their home.

“This happens everywhere,” she said. “It happens on the East Side, West Side, everywhere. It’s because it’s Bayside that they make such a big deal about it. If you go back in the history books, Bayside has not had that many shootings or that many killings.”

Crime data

A review of five years of crime data, for 2016-20, and incident reports for Bridgeview Village lends weight to Samuels’ and other residents’ concerns.

Out of 8,571 Charleston police calls to Bridgeview during that period, the vast majority were for someone who’d dialed 911 and left the line open — 1,168 calls, or nearly 14 percent of all calls. Then, 911 hang-ups were the second most common call category at 503, or just under 6 percent. This means that calls to 911 with no obvious complaints made up just under one-fifth of all calls for service.

Calls reporting suspicious persons, disturbances, suspicious vehicles, verbal disturbances, and domestic-related calls rounded out the top categories, according to police data.

There were 99 calls in those five years for gunshots shots being heard — the 16th most common call category for the community, according to the data. Drug possession calls, 55 in five years, were the 29th most common type of call.

Capt. Dustin Thompson, who runs the department’s office of Community Oriented Policing, said he and his officers have been working to build better relationships with Bridgeview residents.

“That’s a community that deserves to have resources, to have attention paid, because there are overwhelmingly good families living (there),” Thompson said.

In 2019 and going into 2020, officers started a mentorship project with youths in the community, he said.

The effort went off track because of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide unrest sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of law enforcement.

Despite the ongoing challenges, Thompson said he and his officers are committed.

A Charleston police cruiser is seen at one of the two entrances to Bridgeview Village apartments on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

“We never stopped our focus on outreach,” he said. “We got interrupted but we still were in the planning phases of doing good things, making sure there’s long-term goals in place.”

Police continue to reach out to the community and have been in conversation with Attridge and the new ownership, Thompson said.

“We need to know from that community what they want,” the captain said, adding the department’s community-oriented approach is not limited to his team. “It’s not just a community outreach team. Everybody will be involved. We’re not trying to create silos again. We used to have those … teams but now everybody understands there needs to be a balanced approach.”

A question of trust

Thompson acknowledged Charleston Police Department’s approach in the past had been heavy handed.

In 2010, police erected barricades in response to a wave of violent crime at the apartment complex.

Speaking to The Post and Courier in October of that year, then-Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said violent crime dropped to zero after barricades went up on Sept. 13.

But residents objected.

They told the newspaper they wanted to support police in improving public safety, but they saw the barricades as yet another sign that authorities were punishing the community as a whole.

The barricades were also a tangible symbol of isolation in a community that already felt cut off from the rest of downtown Charleston.

Bridgeview is easy to miss unless you look for it.

Located on North Romney Street, it is bordered by cemeteries, marshland, industrial sites and Laurel Island, a former landfill.

Even today, more than 10 years after the barricades went up, one of the community’s three entrances remains inaccessible — Brigade Street, where trash bins and bollards prevent any vehicles from entering.

That sense of isolation, from the city at large and from resources provided to other neighborhoods, was evident in recent comments by Samuels, who has lived in Bridgeview on and off for the past 20 years, and other residents.

A small group gathered on Brigade Street on a recent, rainy afternoon to speak with The Post and Courier.

Brian Fokes, Samuels’ boyfriend, said although he does not live in Bridgeview he spends a lot of time in the community helping Samuels and her neighbors. He said that lack of investment in the community has created an environment where youths have nothing to do and end up on the wrong path.

“A lot of this stuff, these kids just need things to do,” Fokes said. “Recreation is a big part of it.”

Samuels and Fokes said they feel like officers assigned to patrol their community are standoffish, rarely get out of their cars or make an effort to get to know the residents they’re sworn to protect.

“When there’s a shooting, that’s when police want to speak with residents, but not the day-to-day,” she said.

And Samuels was clear, she wants to see officers around and to know them on a personal level. That kind of relationship would go a long way toward building trust, she said.

She recalled Officer Dennis LaPage who used to patrol the community. He was killed elsewhere in the city while working as a security officer after hours in January 2002.

At the time of his death, LaPage was assigned as a housing officer working the night shift at Bayside Manor, before it was renamed to Bridgeview, according to Post and Courier coverage at the time.

For Samuels, LaPage was everything she wanted to see in an officer. He got out of his car and was undeterred by the challenges of patrolling the apartment community.

He got to know residents and called them by their names, she said.

“That’s a person who knows the place and knows the people and does not judge us and we have not had that in a long time,” Samuels said.

A leftover Valentine’s Day heart is seen along the railing at Bridgeview Village apartments on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Charleston police incident reports for homicides and aggravated assaults with firearms in Bridgeview from 2016 to 2020 help illustrate further challenges.

Many incidents are noted as being domestic in nature, fights between husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, that escalate. Several reports list suspects as coming from outside, not from Bridgeview.

Some investigations do end with suspects identified quickly. But other reports note uncooperative witnesses and barriers to investigations — incidents such as a November 2017 shooting in which a suspect was never caught. The victim told police he knew who shot him but would not reveal the person’s name, the incident report said.

Turning the tide

For Thompson and his officers, correcting the missteps of the past is an ongoing mission. He said he’s heard residents’ concerns and knows they’d like to see officers on foot or bicycles.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to pose challenges, including on securing enough funding to have dedicated bike or foot patrols in communities like Bridgeview. But Thompson said he and Chief Luther Reynolds are committed to finding ways to meet residents’ needs.

“We have to continue to address problems in that area,” he said. “Our message to the community is that we’re here and we’re available. Keep calling. Keep reporting.

And the mission isn’t limited to policing.

Standard Communities, the affordable housing division of the new company operating Bridgeview, is beginning its ambitious plan to transform the apartment complex, said Attridge, who is based in Charleston.

“In short, we see the opportunity at Bridgeview Village to transform a 1970s vintage apartment community into a safe, park-like setting,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity to preserve affordable housing in the community.”

The goal is to see Bridgeview transformed into a community with residents uplifted and supported, Attridge said.

Standard Cos. is based in New York and Los Angeles and has a portfolio that includes 9,900 affordable-housing units, which are managed by Standard Communities.

Work is slated to begin in the next month, according to the company. Tenants will be temporarily moved to vacant units during the extensive renovations and can then return to the same unit they were living in.

The new community center, when finished, will incorporate leasing and management offices, a business center, fitness center, community space, Wi-Fi and other resources for schoolchildren, according to Standard.

“Our goal is to work from the inside out, to get buy-in from the residents and community leaders so this can be a place where residents can really thrive and grow and be able to enjoy all the benefits of this city,” Attridge said.

Word of the planned renovations excited Charles Smith, 75, who has lived in Bridgeview for 20 years.

“I love this community,” Smith said. “Other people come from different areas and make it rough for us, but other than that, everything is going really smooth.”

He’s eager to see what kinds of renovations Standard has in store.

Smith said previous owners did little to upkeep the complex and respond to residents’ needs.

“I’ve been in my apartment 20 years and the only thing they did was come spray for roaches,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get them to paint my apartment. I told them I had mold on my walls.”

And Samuels said she has confidence in Bridgeview’s new leasing manager, who has been working with residents in good faith to address issues.

Mayor John Tecklenburg said he suspects a significant part of the issues at Bridgeview can be tied to the complex’s previous owners, a company based in California that he characterized as absentee landlords.

Standard Communities has been clearly communicating and coordinating with city officials, the mayor said. And having Attridge based in Charleston is an added bonus, Tecklenburg added.

In addition to improvements at the complex itself, residents can also look forward to city projects in the area around Bridgeview, he said. Improvements to Brigade Street will create a safer bicycle and pedestrian connection tying the apartments to the rest of the city and, ultimately, with the Lowcountry Lowline — a planned linear park following an old rail line between Mount Pleasant Street and the Charleston Visitor Center.

The city stands ready to dedicate resources toward revitalizing the Bridgeview community, Tecklenburg said, everything from law enforcement to recreation programs for children and youth.

“We are committed to building those connections,” he said.

Building a community

Despite the plans and promises of resources, residents like Samuels said they remain guarded. They’ll have to see the changes and feel the benefits before they buy in.

Standing on Brigade Street, the longtime Bridgeview resident spoke of the lingering distrust she and others feel toward city officials and most outsiders.

For years, the community had to shoulder the burdens of isolation without much help, Samuels said.

“We’ve made do with it,” she said. “We have block parties. We have (school) uniform giveaways. We take care of our old people out here.”

People like Edward Jones, cofounder of the nonprofit Concerned Citizens of Peninsula/Low Country, have been there for Bridgeview, organizing food drives, holding bike giveaways, mentoring youths and being a tireless resource, Samuels said.

It was Jones, who also runs youth sports leagues and works with residents of the city’s East Side, who helped deliver the recent food box donations Samuels distributed to her fellow residents.

She said Jones has been helping her try to get the community center back open and assisted her in typing up by-laws for a residents’ association, but thus far, their efforts haven’t gained traction.

“Bridgeview/Bayside is in the city of Charleston,” Jones said. “It’s a part of the city … but back here they get no services. Who’s thinking about them? That’s my fight and it continues to be my fight as long as they don’t get the services they need back here.”

On this day in mid-February, Jones left after a short time. He had to attend to other work, including planning for the food drive, but Samuels and other residents remained.

The group walked down Brigade, past the trash bins and bollards and entered the complex.

Samuels spoke of her time in the community and of how many good people were born and raised there. She spoke of her two sons, now 24 and 18, who are enrolled in college, and her pride in their accomplishments.

She stopped along the way, chatting with her friend, Felicia Bonneau.

“We have some good people around here,” said Bonneau, 41, who has lived in the complex for five years. “I’d say we have some negative ones who don’t live here, coming from outside to bring the drama. I don’t think it’s fair, especially for the elderly people, because they have to live here too and you’ve got to give them respect.”

Together, she, Samuels and other like-minded neighbors make it a point to check in on elderly residents, especially those who do not have family nearby.

And Bonneau worries about safety for her children and other young people in the community. She’s heard gunmen running through the complex firing shots and has seen cars driving fast on North Romney through the complex.

She worries about someone innocent dying.

But Bridgeview is a place where neighbors look out for each other. It is a haven for families and a refuge from the relentless gentrification of downtown Charleston.

Luxury apartments with high rents have sprouted nearby, only a few hundred yards down North Romney Street.

The Dec. 29, 2020 officer-involved shooting and still-unsolved shooting death of 58-year-old Wayne Allen Wade a few weeks later still weigh on Samuels. She plans to keep a close eye on children in the community and work with her neighbors to keep them out of trouble.

Still, she’s convinced better days lie ahead if the community sticks together.