Vivian Pounder loves a good challenge. In fact, she thrives on tackling the seemingly impossible.
Currently the Property Manager at NCC Douglas Homes, Pounder arrived in June of 2012 to a building that had seen better days. On her first day in charge at 15 Hill St. in Newark, Pounder walked the dim hallways, surveyed the building exterior where people were milling around in front, and threaded through the stairwells, which had attracted loiterers.
“There was a whole lot going on,” Pounder recalled. “When I came down here, I came alive again.”
Previously the manager at Orange Senior, Pounder was transferred to Douglas Homes “because of her skills and capability,” according to Fonda Porter, Director of NCC Property Management.
“Within 120 days, Vivian Pounder demonstrated that she can meet the expectation of management,” Porter said. In a span of two years, Douglas Homes, a senior and disabled adult residence that was previously cited for deficiencies, was rated as an “excellent” property in 2014 by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Pounder quickly saw that her building faced major challenges: late rent payments, drug transactions, outsiders roaming the building and sagging curb appeal.
“We had a lot of squatters. She got rid of them,” said Jasminee Sawh-Ramroop, who worked closely with Pounder and was the building’s Care Coordinator from 2004 to 2013.
If residents violated the terms of their lease, Pounder took them to court to have them evicted.
“You have to go strictly by the books,” Pounder said. She also made quick fixes like setting up a waiting area outside her office for residents and brightening the corridors by having hallway lights replaced. Residents had told Pounder that they felt nervous about walking the hallways or riding the elevator.
Tenant Association President Darlene Parker has lived at Douglas Homes since 1994 and knows the problems that the building faced before Pounder arrived.
“When Ms. Pounder came, she just started cleaning house,” said Parker, 68, adding that she now feels “much safer.”
However Pounder faced blowback from other residents who clashed with her style. She had reinforced such policies as locking the community room at night and requiring residents to put their complaints in writing.
“At one point I felt like I was fighting upstream,” said Pounder, who is no stranger to adversity. Previously a resident of Damascus, Ga., Pounder became the town’s first African-American mayor in 2008. (She’s listed on Wikipedia for this accomplishment.) She recalled facing staunch resistance from the town of approximately 233 residents, which had also never elected a woman as mayor, Pounder said.
Back at Douglas Homes, Pounder’s new policies began having tangible effects within one month, Sawh-Ramroop said. Eventually, with a collaborative effort among Management, Security, Environmental Services and Health and Social Services departments, the atmosphere of the building began to shift and people took notice.
“She’s a very strong manager. She deals with all situations, knows who is coming and who is going,” said Asset Manager Sammy Gebreyesus, who along with Porter, worked closely with Pounder. Pounder jokes that she “had to get a fish tank” for her office to provide a semblance of serenity. Born in Weisbaden, Germany as part of a military family, Pounder spent her formative years in the South, growing up in Georgia. She studied at Albany State before transferring to Rutgers.
At a recent meeting with the Tenant Association, Pounder addressed issues ranging from the annual recertification process to building gossip. Whenever residents began talking over each other, Pounder called out, “one meeting,” which signaled the group to settle down and allow one person to talk at a time. Pounder was quick to crack a joke and deftly diffused tense moments with a laugh.
“She changed the attitude of the people,” said Gebreyesus. “I really appreciate working with her.”
“She’s the best thing for this building (that) I’ve seen in a long time,” Parker added of Pounder. “She’s very conscientious about what she does and how she does it.”
After working in the field of property management for nearly three decades, Pounder said her passion is for senior residents.
“They might not be in the upper echelon but they worked hard all their life,” Pounder, who is also a licensed minister, said. “You always find a lot of jewels in senior buildings,” she added. Looking forward, Pounder acknowledges the challenges that still remain at her building (2014 was the hardest year, she noted), but takes heart in the progress.
“I think I did what I was supposed to do,” she said. “Whenever I’m fighting for a cause, I fight real hard.”