From the Record:
Growing up in Paterson, Sandra Drysdale had lots of friends living in the Alexander Hamilton housing complex. But what she heard about crime and drug-dealing there made her afraid to visit.
Now, she lives with her husband and sons on the site of the old complex, in a rented town house — which she describes as “gorgeous” — at a new subsidized development called Heritage at Alexander Hamilton.
“I love this place,” Drysdale, 56, said recently. “It’s so quiet, and everybody watches out for each other. … It’s a community.”
The foreboding old brick buildings — built in the 1950s and known informally as the Alabama projects, for nearby Alabama Avenue — were torn down in 2010 and replaced by the new development, a collection of 205 town houses and semi-detached homes. The new development, which includes a community center and space for a preschool, recently won a Smart Growth award from New Jersey Future.
The development’s 180 rentals are filled, and about half a dozen of the planned 25 for-sale units are sold, with more under contract. The development is almost complete, except for the construction of the preschool and about nine homes.
Heritage at Alexander Hamilton, which is just north of Route 80 near Paterson’s Market Street exit, reflects a shift in thinking about affordable housing. After large urban public-housing complexes around the nation became magnets for drugs and crime, a number of them were demolished to make way for a less dense style of development. The idea was to dilute the concentration of poverty as a way to reduce social problems.
Those problems were rampant at the old Alexander Hamilton housing complex, which consisted of 498 units in five high-rises and nine low-rises. Because it was so close to Route 80, drug dealers could easily sell to users who drove in from the suburbs. Gunfire was common.
“With the high-rises, we had a lot of indefensible space that was not owned or monitored by anyone,” said Wilfredo “Fred” Vazquez, director of modernization and development for the Paterson Housing Authority.
In these spaces – such as stairwells, courtyards and entry halls – trouble had a way of muscling in. The goal of the new development was to have “eyes on the street,” Vazquez said.
“Every house has windows where you can see what’s going on,” he said. Jerry Speziale, Paterson’s police director, estimates that with the redevelopment, crime in the complex has dropped by as much as 90 percent. “It’s become a very quiet community,” Speziale said.