Not just the Skyline: While tenants suffer across Syracuse, the Greens have a bigger plan

Syracuse, N.Y. — Even the mail carrier won’t go to the Vincent Apartments.

It’s just not safe there, the U.S. Postal Service says. There’s no lighting in the mailroom. People often sleep there. Its floor is sometimes splashed with human feces. Thieves steal the mail.

The Vincent is one of 11 Central New York housing complexes owned by Green National, the real estate firm of prominent former football player Tim Green and his son, Troy Green.

The company has found itself in the crosshairs of Syracuse City Hall, police and county housing officials recently for the worsening conditions at the Skyline Apartment complex, where an elderly woman was found murdered in her apartment.

But the Skyline is just a small piece of the Greens’ growing real estate empire: nearly three dozen complexes across four states worth at least $60 million. Much of their property income comes from poor people and the government. Troy, 26, is the CEO of the Greens’ firm, while Tim is a partner.

Locally, tenants, housing advocates and former employees say Green National has earned a reputation for disregarding tenants’ safety and prioritizing profits over the impoverished residents.

The Greens own mostly apartment buildings where the government pays part of the rent. That guarantees income.

When they started, the Greens were so inexperienced in low-income housing that federal officials took the unusual step of requiring them to hire someone who could effectively manage the places. Over time, they’ve left many buildings in bad shape through a combination of rough tenants and lax oversight.

Now, they’re trying to offload many of their Syracuse properties, but they haven’t abandoned the strategy. The Greens have doubled the size of their housing portfolio with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of publicly funded housing in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Through interviews, real estate documents and court records, pieced together this account of how the Greens rushed into the business of low-income housing and how the conditions at some of their properties have made them notorious in their hometown.

Locally, Green National operates 10 apartment complexes in Syracuse as well as Springfield Gardens near Le Moyne College in DeWitt.

As of March 26, there were 312 outstanding code violations across seven of the Greens’ properties in Syracuse. That doesn’t include the Skyline, which was declared a nuisance and had 15 open violations. Police are called to the building an average of three times a day.

Three Green buildings had no open violations.

The majority of the issues are at four complexes the Greens are trying to sell. spoke to 15 tenants at those properties. Fourteen of them said they were fed up and looking to move. That’s difficult during a pandemic, they said.

They had common complaints: The short-staffed property management company ignores serious issues. Security is lacking, allowing non-tenants to get into the buildings without issue. Common areas are a mess.

All of those issues combined to deprive hundreds of tenants of their mail at The Vincent, a 264-apartment complex at 420 Jamesville Ave. Many disabled and otherwise vulnerable tenants live there with the help of nonprofit organizations.

There have been 225 police calls there since Jan. 1 — 2.5 calls a day. The number includes nine burglaries, two rapes, 44 domestic disputes and 22 calls regarding a mentally disoriented person.

In January, the U.S. Postal Service stopped delivering mail, citing security problems. There is no lighting in the mailroom. It’s full of mildew, and there are “human deposits” from people who break in and sleep there, according to Maureen Marion, a postal service spokeswoman.

The final straw came in January: a major burglary of mail there, Marion said.

“The conditions were not safe for the mail, not safe for the carrier and not safe for the customers,” she said.

So tenants like Martinique Robinson, who has epilepsy, have to find a way to get to the Teall Avenue post office to get their mail. That’s about three-and-a-half miles away.

“I can’t take it anymore,” Robinson said. “Not everybody got a way to get to Teall Avenue.”

The postal service has waited for three months for Green National to build a cement pad that will hold a large, secure mail delivery box, Marion said. Weather has been a factor in the delay, Marion and Troy Green said.

“We know this inconveniences the most vulnerable customers. Your heart sinks, but I can’t bring it to you if I can’t lock it and make sure it’s safe for you,” she said of a mail carrier’s responsibility.

After a reporter reached out to Green National about the mail, Troy Green said his company received necessary measurements that day for the new mailboxes. He said they will be built in April.

Green National uses a single property manager, Nate Hughes, to handle its three large James Street apartment complexes comprising 564 apartments: The Skyline, the James at 600 James St. and Chestnut Crossing. Tenants described calling and emailing him repeatedly about major issues: clogged sinks, lack of heat, rodents and trespassers. They rarely got a response, they said.

Hughes referred a reporter’s questions to Green management, who said there are three part-time and two full-time employees assigned to those three complexes.

Tee Johnson, a tenant at Chestnut Crossing, showed a reporter a service request from Nov. 30 that is still listed as “in process” regarding a clogged sink and tub. She’s complained many times about people smoking in front of her apartment, which sets off the smoke alarm.

A day after her most recent complaint, she returned home from work to find the smoke detector disconnected. She pays $750 a month.

“If I had known it was going to be like this, I would never have moved in here,” she said.

As she spoke, a man experiencing a severe mental crisis walked in and out of her apartment building, agitated and shouting. It’s apparently a frequent haunt for the man, who could be seen three nights holed up in one of the stairwells, which are strewn with trash and needles.

She’s planning to move, she said.

Sheila Scott feared for her safety at Chestnut Crossing after drug dealers beat up her neighbor and took over his apartment, she said. A maintenance woman helped her find a first-floor apartment at the James in June, in an apartment left vacant after a drug overdose.

She’s been unable to leave her apartment at least four times since June because a person has fallen asleep in front of her door. She’s called management enough times that she’s memorized the number, she said, and never hears back.

So she put up a sign telling people: “Do not sit on my step or (lie) in front of my damn door!”

The sign hasn’t worked, she said.

Joshua Michael King was born in Springfield Gardens in DeWitt and grew up there in the 1980s. He moved out when he left for college, then moved back as an adult. He lived there until shortly after the Greens bought the 310-unit complex in 2018.

DeWitt police were called to the complex 308 times between March 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021, which is a decrease in calls from the same period in 2018. DeWitt police spokesman Lt. Jerry Pace gave credit to the Greens for their management, installation of a camera system and willingness to help police investigations.

But King took a dimmer view of the ownership at Springfield Gardens. When they bought the place, he said, the Greens shut down the community center and turned it into their rental office.

The community center was built using donations from the family and friends of late Family Court Judge David Klim and is named for the judge. King said it hosted after-school programs for kids, community meetings and other events. That all ended when the Greens took over in 2018, King said.

“Essentially they stole it from the community and they use it for themselves,” King said. “Barbara Klim built it so we could all be in one space, and Greenland took that away from us.”

Troy Green, in an email, said the building was vandalized before his company bought it. He said they have made upgrades and kept “ample” space for community use, like a series of computer stations for tenants, though the public space has been closed recently because of Covid-19.

King’s mother still lives in the complex. She’s 70 years old and has spent her life there. King said she often can’t leave her apartment in the winter because the sidewalks don’t get shoveled.

He said he’s watched the decline of the property, first under Longley Jones, then, more rapidly, under the Greens. When he was a kid, there was a swimming pool, playground and basketball courts. Those are all gone now.

“My concern is that they’re not managing and maintaining the grounds,” he said. “Greenland bought the building and got to benefit from what? From poverty.”

Tim Green was a star Syracuse University football player who became an NFL player, lawyer and author. He and his son live on the shore of Skaneateles Lake. Tim revealed in 2018 that he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a nervous system disease with no known cure.

The Greens’ foray into real estate began about eight years ago, shortly before Tim’s diagnosis.

In 2013, while his son Troy was a 19-year-old student, Tim Green borrowed nearly $1 million to buy five rental properties in the university neighborhood through a limited liability company called 5 Star University Housing. Troy managed those properties. On his website, Troy notes those houses as the start of his real estate career.

That was happening around the same time as Tim’s unsuccessful attempt at becoming a residential developer. He wanted to build a 17-home neighborhood on a 46-acre tract of land near his current home on Skaneateles Lake. It would have included a cluster of houses along the water for his family plus about a dozen homes to sell across the street.

Neighbors and town officials quashed that effort.

In 2016, after Troy had graduated from SU, the Greens bought 17 two-family rental houses throughout Syracuse using a pair of limited liability companies. They paid about $635,000 for them all. That early venture was marred by money losses and conflicts with their third-party manager.

Internally, those properties were referred to as “The Wild West,” according to several contractors who worked for the Greens, who described efforts to skirt housing codes.

In 2018, 10 of the “Wild West” houses were sold to a Downstate investor for $410,000 – more than $100,000 less than what the Greens paid for them. Another five were sold to RDM Global LLC, a company owned by overseas investors.

At the same time, Tim Green began buying large, low-income apartment complexes from Longley Jones, a well-known Central New York real estate company. Between 2015 and 2018, he bought 13 buildings in Syracuse and the surrounding suburbs.

Green borrowed more than $30 million for those properties, according to public records.

Most of the buildings cater to low-income renters whose rent is partially paid by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition to the CNY buildings, the Greens bought the Village East building in Vernon, the Green Historical Parks Apartments in Utica and the Beekman Towers in Plattsburgh. The buildings in Plattsburgh and Utica have contracts with HUD under which the agency will pay up to 30% of a tenant’s annual income toward rent. Such an arrangement is referred to as project-based Section 8.

HUD officials initially signaled concern about the Greens taking over so much subsidized housing in New York, since they had no experience administering the complicated maze of paperwork. In 2018, they refused to approve the sale of a group of buildings until the Greens partnered with an experienced manager, according to Bill Simmons, executive director of the Syracuse Housing Authority.

The Greens hired SHA to manage Springfield Gardens, Beekman Towers, Heritage Place and six of its Syracuse buildings. Simmons said it was a one-year contract where SHA helped file the proper paperwork with the federal government and train Green’s staff.

In his 14 years at SHA, Simmons said, that was the only time he’d seen such a requirement.

The Greens later hired a local consulting company to make sure they complied with HUD rules. That company has since sued Greenland Property Services, accusing them of breaching the contract after six months and poaching its top compliance officer.

HUD inspects and rates buildings with project-based section 8 arrangements. A Green LLC that owns six Syracuse buildings received a 63 out of 100 at its last inspection in 2019 — barely above failing. The buildings in Plattsburgh and Utica received scores of 86 and 89, respectively, during the most recent inspections.

Former city officials say Troy Green approached them several years ago with a proposal to build a low-income housing complex near Nob Hill. Housing officials were skeptical that he had the experience needed to operate it and it went nowhere.

In 2019, shortly after a report about deteriorating conditions at the Skyline, the Greens started trying to unload their properties. They listed the Skyline, Chestnut Crossing, the James and the Vincent for sale. Last December, they also sold Seneca Gardens the Valley for $3 million and Festival Gardens in LaFayette for $1.4 million.

While the Greens were dumping Syracuse real estate, they were scooping up big pieces of subsidized housing in other states. From the summer of 2019 to 2020 they bought 12 complexes in Ohio, five in Pennsylvania and one in Michigan – more than $35 million worth of property, based on listed market value.

Almost all of those buildings also receive project-based Section 8 rent subsidies. Those buildings were mostly on a steady decline before the Greens bought them. The average HUD inspection score for the buildings in Ohio dropped 10 points in the five years leading up to the Greens’ purchase. One failed its most recent inspection and three others just barely passed.

In Syracuse, a custodian named Beth Everson worked in the Skyline for 35 years until February, when she left, fed up, with a day’s notice.

She saw the decline from an elegant building with a fireplace, piano and television in the common area to what it is now.

“When they took over,” Everson said of the Greens, “it just slowly crumbled and crumbled and crumbled and crumbled.”

She and a former property manager, Eleanor Scarfino, who left in summer 2019, said the Greens cut costs on maintenance and security.

Scarfino said she regularly asked the owners to hire more guards and install cameras in the stairwells, but they didn’t because of the cost.

When the Greens bought the building, Scarfino said, she paid a firm to draw up blueprints for a security vestibule in the lobby that would make it harder for trespassers.

They said they presented it to Troy Green. He declined to build it, citing the $15,000 cost, Scarfino said.

After Connie Tuori was found murdered this month, Green said the company would rush to get the vestibule built.

The cost-cutting made it harder to keep the Skyline safe and clean, Everson and Scarfino said.

To Everson, it seemed like owners and tenants no longer respected the building to which she’d devoted her life.

She took pride in the holiday displays she set up. She and her kids would put up in the lobby glittering Christmas lights, wreaths and decorative village.

But in October, she came to work to find, for the first time, that her Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations had been thrown on the floor. She cleaned it up herself.

This December, for the first time in 35 years, she couldn’t bring herself to decorate.

“I said, I can’t do it,” she said. “They’re gonna ruin it.”

Chris Baker is a public affairs reporter for and The Post-Standard. Contact him via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Reporter Patrick Lohmann can be reached at [email protected] or (315)766-6670.

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