Crime this summer has decreased across the board in many of Boston’s public housing high rises and one-story units that used to be referred to as “projects." But it's not enough to assuage the fears of some residents.

In mid-August, during an early morning walk through the former Bromley Heath public housing complex in Jamaica Plain, a young resident shouted out to Bill McGonagle from a third-floor window.

McGonagle shouted back, “What’s up, big guy?”

McGonagle, Boston’s Public Housing chief, himself grew up in South Boston’s Mary McCormick homes, back when Whitey Bulger’s gangsters ruled the pavement. McGonagle is a familiar face in Bromley, an 80-year-old, low-income village renamed the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments, in honor of the neighborhood activist who worked to clean up this complex.

When the heat goes off in the winter, or when the apartments overheat in the summer, residents call McGonagle. But in the last few months, calls have been about mainly safety, he says.

“In the summer, obviously, there's more people out on the streets, there's more people out on their stoops, there's more people out, you know, perhaps barbecuing. It gets hot, and that can make people irritable. So, there are some unique concerns for the summertime,” he said.

And the season kicked off in the worst possible way. In May, a man shooting wildly into a crowd killed 58-year-old Clayborn Blair, a Navy veteran and father of three, and 23-year-old Christopher Joyce, a Salem College student. McGonagle credits eye witnesses and new safety equipment for helping to apprehend a suspect.

“We invested $1.2 million in security cameras. So, we've got virtually every square inch of this development covered by security cameras. In some way it provides a deterrent to crime,” said McGonagle.

In some ways, yes, but that high-profile double murder is not the only reason for persistent fear. Following a 10-month investigation earlier this year, Boston police and federal agents arrested nine members and associates of the Heath Street Gang on drug and gun charges. There are too many guns on the street, said a woman named Luz, sitting on her stoop.

“My daughter lost a lot of friends these past two years. A lot of these young kids that got shot were her friends.”

But in June, July and August of 2018, this complex has been relatively quiet. Last year, police recorded one homicide, 36 incidents of shots fired, eight non-fatal shootings, 25 robberies and 20 drug-related arrests in and around these high rises.

"I would not want this community to be seen as a place that has a significant presence of gang members because it doesn't. It has a significant presence of decent hardworking people that are trying to raise their children in a safe and decent community."
Bill McGonagle, BHA Administrator

Wendy Polanco, a mother and a member of the Mildred Hailey Tenant Association, said, “Safety-wise, I think it has improved a lot more. Last year we had two incidents in the summer and so far, this year we have had none.”

But the summer is not over. The dog days are still dragging on. One gang worker tells WGBH that he’s seeing a lot of guns on the streets and says the possibility of violence comes from juveniles packing heat amid a stepped-up rivalry between Roxbury’s H-Block gang and Heath Street.

Police point to an uptick in violence at Mission Hill, Orchard Park and Annunciation Road public housing developments.

But concerns about safety are not just about keeping guns out. Residents are also keen to keep out opioid users and others who enter the buildings without keys or permission.

“People come and break the locks to hang out in the hallways and to sleep in the hallways and things like that," Polanco said. "So, once the lock is broken they can come in. Anybody can come in and hang in the hallways.

McGonagle acknowledges the problem.

“When you have got, you know, 50 or 60 people living in a building, and a bunch of them are young people," McGonagle said, "she said broken door locks are a huge problem, and they are. We have a carpenter here at Hailey apartments who works full-time, 40 hours a week, doing nothing but repairing hallway door locks.”

As we walked through the complex, McGonagle pointed to a building that houses newly arrived residents from Somalia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Twenty-three languages are spoken here and some of them could be heard on a playground, where children were playing tag.

That’s the image McGonagle prefers.

“I would not want this community to be seen as a place that has a significant presence of gang members because it doesn't,” he said. “It has a significant presence of decent, hardworking people that are trying to raise their children in a safe and decent community.”

Yet, McGonagle acknowledges no matter how insignificant, there is still a gang presence. But the objective, he says, is to create better living conditions in what used to be called “projects.”

McGonagle rounded a corner, checked doors and exchanged greetings with residents of the Mildred Hailey homes.