Enthusiasm for an initiative to enable Huntsville apartment managers and owners to minimize criminal activity on their properties has been, according to its leader, “snowballing” since its introduction.
The Blue Star Crime Free Multi-Housing program is being established by the Huntsville Police Department (HPD) under the leadership of Rheajoela Caldwell, Huntsville Community Watch president and a community liaison for the HPD. It’s designed to both reward good stewardship by landlords and to help steer potential tenants into safe housing.
Caldwell and Community Relations Officers have begun their outreach to properties and “we’ve had such a positive response” since the Blue Star webpage went online, according to Caldwell. It is the first such program in Alabama.
To acquire Blue Star designation, an apartment complex must comply with various regulations and standards. They include a solid-core or metal door for entrances, deadbolt locks, secure ground-floor windows, proper lighting and maintenance of bushes and trees to minimize their use as hiding places.
During their training, landlords will be advised on applicant screening, how to deal with troublesome residents and the legal rights of management in eviction.
“When we went out and talked to the managers at apartment complexes, they’re really excited about it,” Caldwell said. “They recognize the value of the program. It puts them more in touch with the police department and two-way communication will really help.”
The Blue Star program is being rolled out in all three precincts of the city and apartment complexes interested in participation, or tenants who want to urge membership by their landlords, can reach out through an interest form on the City’s website – or by visiting huntsvilleal.gov/bluestar.
“This program has been successful in cities across the country. Crime rates dropped. Citizens were able to make informed, safe housing choices, and officer safety increased as a result of fewer calls.”
An eight-hour training session introduces apartment managers to the Blue Star program, then they are given an amount of time to come into full compliance before Blue Star leaders conduct an inspection. Those who pass go onto a Blue Star list that is easily referenced by potential tenants. The last stage is outreach to the tenants themselves.
It’s a benefit for three different entities.
First, for tenants. It increases their comfort level regarding safety and it often leads to community watch groups that enhance that safety.
Second, for police. It lowers the number of calls they receive.
Third, for the apartment management and ownership. It can lower insurance rates, keep management better informed of problems occurring on-site and can lead to higher occupancy. It’s also a way to salvage a reputation that may have soured through the years.
“This program has been successful in cities across the country,” Caldwell said. “Crime rates dropped. Citizens were able to make informed, safe housing choices, and officer safety increased as a result of fewer calls.”
Huntsville’s Blue Star initiative is based on a program created in Mesa, Ariz. A similar program enjoyed great success in Tucson, 100 miles to the south, with crime rate dropping 70 percent in apartments upon the advent of its Crime Free Multi-Housing program.
Becky Noel was the Tucson program CEO until her retirement in early 2016 and was president of the International Crime Free Association. She traveled to Huntsville several years ago when HPD Community Relations Officer Johnny Hollingsworth began the foundation work on the program.
Noel referenced one 250-unit apartment complex in Tucson that had 353 police calls during the course of one year, most related to violent or ugly crimes. That prompted management to enroll in the program sponsored by the Tucson Police Department. The following year, police answered only 70 calls at the complex, most of those less serious, from residents reporting noise problems, potential domestic incidents or a suspect breaking into a car.
Though many of the local programs ban ex-felons convicted of violent crimes and sex offenders, Noel often explains the program is not discriminatory.
“When you take care of business and weed out people who do bad stuff, it lowers the crime rate,” she said. “If you’re being a good tenant there’s not a problem.”
Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, and thus led to numerous calls to Noel’s office from parents sending their children there to live in off-campus housing. They wanted names of apartment complexes who were compliant with the program, something that could benefit concerned parents with kids at UAH and Alabama A&M.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re low income, middle income or high income,” Noel said. “Everybody deserves a safe place to live. Your home should be your safe haven.”