For Dave Caston Sr. and many other residents of Franklin Towers, the stabbing of a young man outside their building this month was unsettling – but not altogether surprising.

Lyndall Mink, 82, who lives at Franklin Towers, listens to residents speak during the meeting held Thursday by the Portland Housing Authority. People older than 60 comprise the largest portion of residents in the public housing complex.

Lyndall Mink, 82, who lives at Franklin Towers, listens to residents speak during the meeting held Thursday by the Portland Housing Authority. People older than 60 comprise the largest portion of residents in the public housing complex.

“I think one of the biggest problems is security,” Caston said at a recent meeting of the board of commissioners for the Portland Housing Authority, which manages Franklin Towers, the city’s largest housing facility for the elderly and people with disabilities. “There are people coming in who shouldn’t be coming in. And drugs.”

Residents say there have been an increasing number of incidents involving guests or unauthorized trespassers who slip into the 16-story building behind a tenant or sell drugs in the poorly lit back parking lot.

A sign warns tenants who do laundry to check the washing machines for needles, presumably left there by addicts. Homeless people have been found sleeping in the stairwells. Some tenants are afraid to go to the smoking shelter out back after dark.

REASONS FOR POLICE CALLS

A review of police calls for service at Franklin Towers shows that this month’s violent assault is rare at the 200-unit building, but there have been dozens of calls to police for other crimes and quality-of-life issues.

Calls for service to 211 Cumberland Ave. included 11 assaults since the beginning of 2014, 25 calls for people refusing to leave the premises, 13 threats or terrorizing, six calls for loud music, two fights, one involving a weapon, and six domestic disputes.

Last year there was one call for drug possession and three for drug overdoses. So far in 2015, there have been two calls for drug dealing, five for drug possession and one drug overdose. Calls for mental health issues rose from three last year to eight so far in 2015.

Duane Robert Pierson 77, a resident of Franklin Towers who attended Thursday's meeting, said the building needs staffing beyond Monday-through-Friday business hours.

Duane Robert Pierson 77, a resident of Franklin Towers who attended Thursday’s meeting, said the building needs staffing beyond Monday-through-Friday business hours. hawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Duane Pierson, 77, believes conflicts are inevitable when you mix elderly residents with younger tenants.

“There’s a lot more young people around, different lifestyles. They’re not just content on living day to day. They’re involved in active social lives. They’re living a young lifestyle that just clashes with people who are older,” said Pierson, who has a doctorate in evolutionary biology from Cornell University.

The building needs staffing beyond business hours, Monday through Friday, he said.

“Franklin Towers has some aspects of a college dormitory, of a nursing home, of a medical care facility, of a hotel,” all of which require around-the-clock supervision, Pierson said.

Caston told the board he would be willing to pay more in rent for full-time security at the front desk.

Raising rents to pay for more security is not that simple, says Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, which administers the city’s housing built with funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The formulas for determining rents are set by the federal government. A resident’s rent is capped at 30 percent of their income, he said, and the authority couldn’t charge more to pay for increased services.

The authority is discussing adding a resident manager to the building, someone who would live on site, monitor the property and respond to residents’ concerns after hours. It also is exploring more powerful lighting in the parking lot.

“Residents for the most part are just excellent residents and tenants, thankful for the assistance they’re offered,” Adelson said. “They just want to make sure it’s a safe and secure community and that’s a priority for us, too.”

SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS

The Portland Housing Authority, which has an operating budget of $11.7 million, not including the federal rental vouchers it distributes, has taken steps to improve safety at the building. It has become more aggressive about evicting problem tenants, particularly those involved in drug activity, Adelson said.

Mark Adelson, executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, talks with residents of Franklin Towers on Thursday. He says that with rents set by the federal government, the housing authority cannot charge more to pay for increased security.

Mark Adelson, director of the Portland Housing Authority, talks with residents of Franklin Towers on Thursday. He says that with rents set by the federal government, the housing authority can’t charge more to pay for increased security. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“We’re working very closely with the police department on a variety of investigations and people they’re looking into,” he said. “We’re not surprised at all we have (drug issues). We’re a segment of society and have the same issues everyone else is running into.”

A $35,000 network of security cameras records anyone entering the building and getting off at each floor. Adelson expects the cameras will improve security even if they are an after-the-fact enforcement tool because no one continually monitors them. People are inclined to behave better if they are easily identified later, he said.

The cameras were installed the week before the stabbing, and scouring the videotape for images of the attacker was the first use of the system, though ultimately it proved unsuccessful.

Police say the Nov. 2 stabbing happened in the back parking lot, not inside the building, and the camera images do not help identify the assailant.

The victim, who was treated for a stab wound in the buttocks, was a guest, not a resident, Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said. He wouldn’t elaborate on the investigation, though he said there is no indication the stabbing was random.

“I definitely wouldn’t say the building is unsafe. We have been giving it special attention and we continue to do that, for many other reasons besides” the stabbing, he said.

Malloch said police work closely with the Portland Housing Authority to address issues at all its properties.

“I would categorize the Portland Housing Authority as one of the most responsible landlords in the city, as far as actively managing tenants and holding tenants accountable for their behavior,” Malloch said.

MORE PEOPLE UNDER 60

Malloch said the complex has undergone a demographic shift that has changed the nature of the calls for service there.

Residents older than 60 make up the largest portion of residents, though the number of younger, disabled people has been growing.

Once the building was occupied only by people older than 60, Adelson said. But in a quest for more tenants, people over 50 were admitted. Federal rules also changed to allow younger people with disabilities to be housed there.

The percentage of Mainers with disabilities has grown from 13.4 percent in 2008 to 14.9 percent in 2013, which may have contributed to the changing demographics at Franklin Towers. In 2010, 12 residents younger than 50 were able to live there because of a disability. Now there are roughly 40, a jump from 5 percent of the total inhabitants to 17 percent.

Shary Jones, 49, supports the steps the authority is taking to improve safety.

Though not one of the building’s older residents, she is among those who are reluctant to confront young people trying to slip into the building behind them as they enter.

Once she had to run from the parking lot to the building entrance, chased by two young men, she said.

“I can run, but if it had been somebody that was elderly, or something, I believe they would have probably been robbed or, who knows, stabbed,” she said.