When John Tuitasi’s car was broken into, he had no desire to call the police.
The car had been in the parking lot of the Hillview Court Apartments, located at 1000 Hillview Court in Milpitas.
But when somebody else at the property found out what had happened to Tuitasi’s car, they decided to reach out to police on their own. Later that night, the police went up to Tuitasi’s door and asked him questions about the break-in.
“The next day, somebody threw a rock through my window,” said Tuitasi. “So what good did it do to call the police?”
Since that day, Tuitasi has been harassed and has received numerous threats from the individual who broke into his car.
This is a common occurrence at the Hillview Court Apartments, where many fear repercussions for reporting incidents to the police…
Even before its inception nearly three years ago, things have been rocky for the apartment building. Initially, it was an Extended Stay America, but it was converted into apartment units as part of a supportive housing project by Jamboree, a developer focused on building affordable housing projects across various communities in California.
In 2020, $846 million was put toward California’s Project Homekey, an initiative to give people experiencing homelessness a way of getting off the streets during the pandemic. Across the state, dozens of buildings were purchased and converted into long-term housing. Jamboree’s intention was to develop a property in Milpitas, in partnership with the County of Santa Clara.
When some Milpitas residents caught wind of what was being planned toward the end of 2020, they tried to stop it. Some gathered signatures on petitions and demanded that Jamboree and the County find another city to bring Homekey to. The Milpitas City Council even sent a letter to the County in opposition to their plans and also briefly contemplated a lawsuit.
But the project moved forward, and started accepting residents in January of 2021.
The Beat interviewed nearly a dozen different individuals living in the Hillview Court Apartments. Before staying at Hillview, all of them were part of the homeless population.
But, as one woman put it, “I felt safer when I was living in my car than I am living here in these apartments.”
Residents at Hillview say there have been various assaults, attacks, and even stabbings at the location. In May of 2021, there was a murder on the property.
From January 1 to May 22 of this year, the Milpitas Police Department has received 216 calls for service for the Hillview Court Apartments, a site that only has 132 total units. Reasons for the calls include burglaries, drug-related issues, violence, and suspicious activity.
“There’s drugs, there’s alcohol, and there’s guns here. Everything you can think of, it’s here,” said Leticia Ayala, who has been a resident at Hillview for about a year. “This is the worst place for children to be.”
Despite rules disallowing children from living in the building, residents say that there are currently a few families onsite with kids.
Lisa Reeve, a resident who has lived at Hillview for almost two years, told The Beat that the problems at Hillview are being created by a small group of about 10 or so individuals.
Michelle Delury, another resident, feels that the amount of residents who cause problems in the building might be a bit higher: “A third of the people here need to be medicated, the other third are criminals, and the other third are just normal people.”
The problem is, according to numerous residents, that the property management and onsite security guards won’t call the police or do anything to stop these incidents from occurring; and they also have encouraged the residents themselves not to call police.
The concerned residents also stated that despite this group of individuals creating problems and violence at the property, they are still allowed to continue living there.
“Staff doesn’t do anything. And security is instructed to just tell management what’s happening and not to call police or get involved,” said Reeve.
When The Beat reached out to Jamboree’s Chief Impact Officer, George Searcy, to ask whether or not this was true, he denied it, despite nearly a dozen Hillview residents stating otherwise.
Earlier this week, a resident was experiencing a mental health episode and went around the building spray painting walls along interior and exterior portions of the building. She also broke glass in the hallways and banged on tenants’ doors. Several residents jumped her in the hallway and beat her. Reeve said the woman is currently in jail.
Some nights, residents hear sounds in the ceiling, as if someone is moving around in the crawl space above them. Residents have approached management to complain that someone is up there at night, but they say that management has not taken their concerns seriously.
And around six weeks ago, residents say, the body of one resident was found in his unit. He had been dead for days from a drug overdose. People started to notice the odor emitting from his room.
“The staff didn’t do anything about it, so the residents had to call someone to come for a welfare check,” said Reeve.
That was when they discovered the body. The room has since been taped off, with HAZMAT crews coming in and out to remodel it, due to the biological hazard it presents.
Along with this recent death, residents say there have been a number of fatal drug overdoses at the Hillview Court Apartments in the past…
“In the two years I’ve lived here, there have been 11 to 12 deaths due to fentanyl,” said Reeve.
There are also rumors of a meth lab that exists somewhere on the property. The Beat called Milpitas Police Chief Jared Hernandez to ask about this, but he said it hasn’t been confirmed.
“I can’t confirm there’s a drug lab there, but there was a fire call for service last year related to strong chemical odors coming from at least a couple rooms,” said Chief Hernandez.
The Milpitas Fire Department responded to complaints from a resident who reported a strong odor coming from somewhere in the building, and they thought it had to do with a potential drug lab. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) got involved, but it took them about 24 hours to get out to the location. By that time, the odor had dissipated, and nothing was found.
“They didn’t find a drug lab but that doesn’t mean something wasn’t going on,” said Hernandez. “If someone heard all the sirens coming, they could’ve easily flushed chemicals down the toilet.”
Some residents feel that having so many different entities involved in running the Hillview Court Apartments might be keeping them from taking action or making any kind of lasting improvements at the property.
Jamboree is the developer of the project, and they partnered with Santa Clara County from the very beginning. The County provided funding to acquire and rehabilitate the building. Also, through a contract with Abode Services, the County is able to provide case management services at a ratio of 1 case manager for every 20 tenants.
Consuelo Hernandez is the Director of Santa Clara County’s Office of Supportive Housing. She told The Beat that through their work, Abobe “has connected 80% of all tenants to income (such as SSI or SSDI), 82% of tenants to behavioral health, and earlier this year, through a partnership with the County’s Valley Homeless Health Care Program, began meeting on-site with residents in their home, or in private meeting spaces to address medical concerns.”
She explained that a primary care physician is onsite once a month; and every other week, a registered nurse or occupational therapist comes onsite to address medically fragile clients and those interested in medical services. She also stated that free medical Uber rides are given to residents who prefer receiving treatment at a clinic.
Jamboree also hires a property management company to be on-site at Hillview: Currently, Domus oversees the property management; they were brought on to replace the prior management company, Hyder, earlier this month.
However, the Abode staff has been through eight different turnovers, and in total the site has had three different property management companies in the last two years.
In addition, residents state that the property has no onsite mental health services that they can access when they need it. Instead, when needs arise, they are given a referral to an outside party.
“You can’t take people from the streets and put them in a house, and expect they’re going to do things to motivate themselves,” Tony R., a new resident at Hillview, said in an interview with The Beat. “You’re going to have to motivate them. For instance, to not have any kind of program in place here to help people with drug issues, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Who really thought all this would be a good idea?!”
A Delicate Balance
Milpitas Police Chief Jared Hernandez told The Beat that there is an ongoing collaborative effort to determine how to enhance public safety for residents at Hillview.
“I think the biggest challenge is a difference in philosophy and approach,” said Chief Hernandez to The Beat. “The majority of people living at the Hillview Court Apartments are good people. However, there are a few that attract negativity, cause disturbances, and commit crime.”
Hernandez mentioned that from a police department perspective, they want to “take enforcement action and hold those individuals accountable.” But he also brought up another perspective, which involves really addressing behavior by identifying root causes and then offering counseling and/or ongoing treatment.
“It defines a delicate balance between the two approaches, but I believe the answer for the Hillview Apartments lies somewhere in between,” Hernandez said. He added: “We need to prioritize safety and create an environment where the residents can thrive.”
Last November, Reeve and other residents banded together to form a Tenants Association. After forming it, they received threats from residents who’ve been creating issues for them – but they’re still pushing forward, seeking ways to amplify their voices and bring change to the Hillview Court Apartments.
They formed a Steering Committee and have been meeting with the County and Jamboree to discuss all of their concerns.
Since the different parties started meeting, Searcy from Jamboree told The Beat that their company has been working with the County and Abode to provide more services to the Hillview Court community. Searcy said that they’ve done things like increase the number of staff and security personnel on the site operations team, and have made changes to entrance and exit policies to control access by unauthorized persons.
“It is unfortunate that a small group would try and paint a narrative that the property is unsafe,” Searcy wrote to The Beat by email. “We appreciate our role in serving these vulnerable clients living in independent housing and feel that we are working with a range of partners and with the community of residents to continuously provide a safe place to live.”
Searcy’s comments, Reeve believes, are just another example of the gaslighting that concerned residents have experienced when they try to speak out about what is really happening at Hillview.
Earlier this week, Reeve sent an email out to members of the Milpitas City Council, Santa Clara County, Jamboree, and other organizations, detailing the ongoing problems at Hillview and pleading for them to do something.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, who was one of the recipients of Reeve’s email, called the letter “disturbing” and said that the County would need to double their efforts.
“The development partners will be working with the tenant to investigate these claims to ensure that Hillview has the resources and security to operate safely for everyone,” wrote Supervisor Lee in an email statement to The Beat. “We must make Hillview Court a success story. Besides further site improvements, we need to be more diligent to keep every resident safe.”
Last year, the Milpitas City Council sent a letter to Supervisor Lee to ask that the County provide funding for a full-time police officer at the Hillview Court Apartments. They have not yet received a formal reply, so earlier this afternoon, they sent out another request to Lee, after Milpitas Vice Mayor Evelyn Chua suggested they do so at this week’s Council meeting.
“We need all hands on deck right now,” said Vice Mayor Chua to The Beat. “We have to help these residents.”
In the City of Milpitas’ request to Otto Lee, they wrote that “the 1000 Hillview Court Apartments has required more police presence than any other apartment complex in the City of Milpitas, including apartment complexes more than five times its size.” They also stated that this has impacted Milpitas’ public safety response system and that “the City is seeking reimbursement for the additional public safety costs incurred by activity at this facility.”
Last August, the City of Milpitas estimated that they would be incurring $463,000 in public safety costs related to the Hillview Court Apartments during the entirety of 2022.
Milpitas City Councilmember Anthony Phan went out to the Hillview Court Apartments this week and talked with some of the residents. In an interview with The Beat, he spoke of how it was initially communicated to the Council that Hillview would be a safe place with onsite services for residents. But those promises have fallen short:
“These residents aren’t getting the quality of service and quality of life and safety that they were promised. That was the same promise made to the Council,” Councilmember Phan told The Beat. “I have put a lot of trust and faith in the housing team, and I think folks have good intentions. But at the end of the day, we need accountability measures.”
One resident, Lorrie Jensen, has lived in the apartments for one year and two months. She is hopeful that by coming together, through the Tenants Association, residents can do something to make an impact on how Hillview is run.
“We’re trying to make changes happen because we care about this place. We want to see positive things happen,” Jensen said.
Note from The Beat: There are a lot of layers to this story, and in the coming weeks and months, we will continue to follow it and report back on what we learn to the public.
This story has been updated.