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Mental illness next door

September 25, 2014

by Journalism II

Reporting by Paige DeSorbo, Alex Horton, Vanessa Langdon and Jessica LePore

The 10-unit apartment building on Western Avenue just east of Partridge, which has been home to several mentally ill tenants – some with recent felony records – has a potential buyer.  The brick, three-story building was the site of a December slaying and was put on the market two weeks ago.

Just days after Oscar Valcarcel was convicted of murder for killing 27-year-old tenant Caleb Capen, a buyer made an offer on the property which was listed at $499,000, according to Melissa Hems, a real estate agent with Prudential Manor Homes. The property listing says the building has an annual income of $83,000. Rent for eight of the 10 apartments is reported on the listing document.

Reports indicate that at least three tenants at 326-328 Western Ave. – who lived there at the same time – were receiving treatment for mental health issues.

Hems declined to provide information about the buyer, but according to the Department of State a seller must deal honestly and disclose all facts known to the agent that may affect the value or desirability of the property.

The 10-unit apartment building on Western is under contract./Vanessa Langdon

The 10-unit apartment building on Western is under contract./Vanessa Langdon

Both Valcarcel and Capen received treatment from Equinox, according to testimony in the murder trial in State Supreme Court, Albany County. Equinox in Albany, is a not-for-profit agency that provides housing, outpatient clinics, and recovery-oriented services. The agency also offers an apartment program which includes monthly meetings with a housing specialist.

The executive director of Equinox, Kathy Fletcher, declined to answer inquiries about how her agency assists or does not assist clients with finding housing.

Capen, the murder victim, was previously convicted in 2010 on felony animal cruelty charges after he abused several cats, drowning a cat, setting it on fire, and torturing two other cats,  according to reports.

Another former tenant of the property, Anthony Collins, was convicted of attempted kidnapping for the abduction of a University at Albany student in broad daylight in October 2013. Collins was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he took a knife to two students at a bus stop on Western Avenue across from the 326-328 property.

Collins was the subject of 23-year-old Shannon Straney’s documentary. In the film  Straney talks with Collins about his experience with mental illness from his apartment at 326-328 Western. Collins reveals he is schizoaffective with anxiety and has poly substance abuse issues. Straney saw Collins “once a week for a few months and then once a week for awhile” while filming.

“It’s a project I’m still working on,” said Straney, who plans to continue with Collins.”There’s stuff I’m still trying to tie down, it’s changed a lot. Now that he’s been incarcerated I’m thinking of more what it’s like to have a mental illness and be incarcerated.”

A spokesperson for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Albany said there are no guidelines regarding housing for the mentally ill.

“People with a mental illness can recover in community settings as they go towards their goal of full recovery and community integration,”  said Matt Shapiro, development and event coordinator for the alliance.

“The only state guidance is the state registered homes, but if you’re an individual who owns a house but you’re looking to target people with mental illness if you’re not registered as an organization to provide support services there is absolutely no oversight,” Shapiro said.

The property had “six showings and we had a really strong offer,” said Hems. She told The Pine Hills blog that Prudential contacted The College of Saint Rose about buying the apartment building, but the college did not respond.

That property, said Mike D’Attilio, who works with the college’s community affiars,: “is, however, outside the boundary we have established that we are interested in potentially purchasing.”

City tax records show Hyjinks LLC is the owner of record for the property, located adjacent to the security offices for The College of Saint Rose. Records show Jane Fox of Glenmont as a principal in Hyjinks, but when reached by The Pine Hills blog Fox said her daughter is the current building owner.

A call to Susan Daley, associate director of housing and general admissions for mental health for the Albany County Department of Social Services, was not returned.

“Homes with supervision correctly can be good models, when there is not oversight or support programs offered, it can have negative results,” Shapiro said. -30-

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