The Institute for Public Strategies recently made the following announcement:
Dead trees, littered sidewalks, broken windows, torn mattresses propped outside of doorways, and rusty, toppling railings. These sights, once common among several La Mesa apartment complexes, have become a distant memory in recent years.
Apartments on Rosebud Lane and Parks Avenue have seen a dramatic improvement in outward appearance as well as a drop in criminal activity, thanks in part, to the active partnership between property owner, Larry LaHaye with LaHaye Enterprises, property manager, Shelly Pendray and the La Mesa Police Department’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.
After investing in several properties in La Mesa nearly a decade ago, LaHaye has committed his efforts to creating a safe and family-friendly neighborhood, which was not only well maintained but also free of crime, drugs, alcohol and undesirable tenants. When Pendray joined LaHaye three years ago, she too made a commitment to change the neighborhood. All but one of LaHaye’s six properties are now fully Crime Free Multi-Housing certified.
“We had a lot of vandalism, tagging, car theft, burglaries and shady tenants,” said Pendray.
Neighborhood disorder and criminal activity are linked. As a result, a game of “monkey-see-monkey-do” can influence neighborhood attitudes of what is socially acceptable. If the problem goes unaddressed, one broken window can turn into several broken windows. Calls to police increase and a standard of disorderly behavior becomes normal, according to a study conducted in Newark.
In 1992, the Mesa Arizona Police Department developed the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program to combat these issues and address neighborhood safety and criminal activity. Since it started, the program has spread to nearly 2,000 cities in 44 states and internationally.
The Crime Free Multi-Housing Program works to target nuisance properties and create partnerships between police departments, property managers, apartment community tenants, as well as city staff and officials in an effort to create safer, more desirable apartment communities.
The program uses a proactive approach to reducing criminal and nuisance activities by providing training and resources for property owners and tenants so they can properly assess problem situations and reduce police calls for service.
After completing the Crime Free Multi-Housing program certification through the La Mesa Police Department in August 2010, Pendray began to see significant improvements at her six apartment communities.
“Things have been great! I haven’t had any problems. No graffiti, no trash being dumped,” Pendray reported at a La Mesa Apartment Property Managers Meeting in early January.
According to the La Mesa Police Department, from 2009-2012, a similar property in the neighborhood without a Crime Free Multi-Housing certification had a steady increase of calls to service, while LaHaye’s property stabilized. In that same time frame, the comparison property had nearly twice the calls for service and approximately three times the number of arrests than the LaHaye property.
These improvements do not come without commitment. Pendray has been through several steps of the Crime Free Multi-Housing program, including receiving primary training and certification to understand how to utilize resident background checks and implementation of a “crime free lease addendum.”
By advertising as a crime-free property, Pendray has seen a significant reduction in the number of undesirable applicants. She said that in the three years she has been with LaHaye Enterprises, she has not had any evictions, which can cost as much as $600 for the initial paperwork alone.
“We do a full screening with background checks, and we have strict pre-qualifications to get tenants in here. We let people know we’re Crime Free Multi-Housing, which allows us to end their stay if they are breaking the rules. People who won’t pass the screening won’t even apply. It’s a great weeding process for tenants. It’s well worth it,” said Pendray.
Crime Prevention Specialist, Erin Jones, from the La Mesa Police Department conducted property inspections to ensure resident safety. Adding outdoor lighting, peepholes, additional windows and automatically closing doors in laundry facilities were some of the required changes.
“The cost was minimal in comparison to the amount of turnovers that we don’t have anymore and the amount of time I have to be here to respond to police calls. It just doesn’t happen anymore,” said Pendray.
Although a single piece of trash or a shattered beer bottle may not cause an immediate problem, according to the “Broken Windows” theory, signs of neighborhood deterioration can quickly create a sense that nobody cares if a rusty railing goes unpainted or a broken-down car is not towed away. If nobody takes responsibility, criminal activity often follows.
LaHaye said his team takes it upon themselves to keep standards high in their neighborhood.
“It’s almost on autopilot. When there is a crime, we just jump on it,” said LaHaye. He said some property owners will let something slide if they don’t feel a problem is serious enough. “If you’re disrupting the quality of life for other people around you, it’s serious. It’s very serious.”
LaHaye’s quick response time paired with a “neighborhood-watch” system can be used as ways to deter problems that the community decides aren’t acceptable. By discouraging a noisy neighbor or a stranger from loitering, the sense of safety improves and ultimately, a drop in criminal behavior will generally follow.
LaHaye said that he typically shares safety information with other property owners in the area, and encourages them to do the same, especially when it comes to a problematic tenant who may try to move in to another property on the same block after being evicted.
He said that making sure there is open communication among local property owners helps create a neighborhood-watch atmosphere and promotes a family-friendly environment for tenants.
LaHaye and Pendray have both noticed positive changes in other local complexes, even the ones that are not yet Crime Free Multi-Housing certified.
“The whole neighborhood is becoming nicer now. Other properties are seeing the changes we’ve made and are putting in security screens and starting to fix things,” LaHaye said.
Jones commends Pendray for her continuous efforts to encourage other property managers in the area to stay involved, lead by example and help keep others informed about helpful resources available to them through the La Mesa Police Department.
“She really is the gold standard of Crime Free Multi-Housing in La Mesa because she does such a good job of showing what’s successful. Other people see how hard she works and think, ‘If she did it then I can do it too,’” Jones said.