Complex sheds crime-ridden image

Kris Mulay would have been happy to live just about anywhere in town when she first moved to Craig last July, on the run from a violent man.

With her low-income status and twin children, she qualified to rent a subsidized apartment at the Ridgeview Apartments. At that time, the 48-unit complex was one of Craig's three low-income subsidized complexes until the U.S. Department of Housing and Rural Development (HUD) auctioned it off last October.

Though the apartment represented some stability after months of hopping in and out of shelters, Ridgeview was hardly Mulay's dream destination.

"There were stains on the carpet," she said. "It was gross."

More disturbing than the apartment's aesthetic value, drug activity was rampant and some nearby, blatant cases of domestic violence kept her awake at night.

"It was horrible after being through it myself," Mulay said close to tears.

But these days, the neighborhood seems to be looking up, say some residents and the local police.

Police reports to the apartment complex have increased in the last year, but the nature of the calls have become more benign, said Officer Tony Fandal of the Craig Police Department.

From Nov. 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003, Craig Police responded to a total of 76 calls at the complex. Many were attributed to civil disturbances and suspicious person complaints. From March 1, 2003 to March 10, 2004, police responded to about 100 calls.

"Just looking at the calls, they look similar, but the greater number could be initiated by the manager," said Craig Police Officer Dale Secules. "I didn't work with the past manager, but the present manager has really taken over. We're glad to see somebody in there want to take bull by the horns."

Fandal agreed that the head-on approach is working.

"They've taken a real proactive stance to cleaning up the apartments," he said. "If everybody took a stance like that it'd make a big difference in town."

Fandal is the department's liaison for Ridgeview Apartments. Other officers are assigned to Craig's other apartment complexes.

Time for Change

A couple months before the sale, Ridgeview management began to press for change, Fandal said.

Ridgeview was formerly a HUD property owned by the Evans Real Estate Group of Denver. According to HUD information, owner Tom Evans defaulted on an August payment, which sent the complex into foreclosure.

A group of investors -- some of whom are local residents -- bought the complex. Manager Jackie Urie didn't want the owners' names released but the information is public record.

After the switch, communication and action by new Ridgeview management helped spur changes, Fandal said.

"Once new management came in, it became easier to identify the problems," he said.

A network of secrecy surrounded the apartment complex, as renters were afraid to snitch on neighbors who they suspected were dealing or using drugs, Mulay said.

Concerned about the safety of the environment surrounding her new home, she joined up with a neighborhood watch group and began to report the some of the incidents she saw to the authorities.

Some children acted out of control or weren't well cared for.

They would sometimes knock on doors in search of food while parents were too inebriated or high on drugs to take care of them, Mulay said.

At one point Mulay said, she stayed up until the early morning informing police via telephone of large amounts people traveling in and out of some apartments.

"It didn't feel like this place had a real family atmosphere," she said. "It's a lot different now."

Getting down to business

Enter Jackie Urie.

When Ridgeview's new straight-talking, no-nonsense apartment manager took the helm in November, not everybody was excited.

It's a point Urie is first to admit.

"At first a lot of residents were upset," she said. "They didn't know what was happening. It was nothing personal -- we just wanted to clean the place inside and out."

Urie has managed apartments for 20 years in major cities across the country.

One of the first actions she took was requiring criminal checks of all renters. Then she required all renters to re-sign lease agreements along with mandatory apartment inspections.

Through that process Urie refused to re-lease apartments to 10 renters.

A new policy allows management to terminate a renter's lease if he or she is cited for just one drug or alcohol disturbance.

"People were not used to being reported for drug and alcohol abuse," Urie said. "They tended to get lax and pretty much did whatever they wanted to do."

As the new president of the Yampa Valley Landlord Association, Urie wants to other landlords require background checks of all renters.

It's a requirement that some local landlords already undertake, but the policy has drawbacks, said Captain Jerry DeLong of the Craig Police Department.

"The only information we can pull up is on people who've done local crimes," he said. "It doesn't say anything about if you've had a checkered past." *

Still, a coordinated effort to keep local apartment complexes clear of habitually violent people and drug abusers may help deter crime, DeLong said.

"There seems to me that a change is happening," he said of Ridgeview apartments. "We can't do this job without the help of landlords being proactive with their tenants."

Fresh start

New repairs are on horizon at Ridgeview.

According to the sale agreement from HUD, the new owners are required to make specific repairs to the complex within a year of the sale. Some of those big-ticket items include new roofing and pavement. HUD estimated the entire costs of repairs to be $266,000.

But Ridgeview's new owners also want to start with a clean slate. Apartments are slowly being outfitted with new tile, carpeting and fresh paint for both the interior and exterior.

Jessica Sherwood already likes living at Ridgeview because of its extras like a washer and dryer in each unit. But new appliances, like an oven and refrigerator to replace the antiquated ones, would be nice, she said.

"Other than that, this is better than my last apartment that had orange shag carpet," Sherwood said.

To go with its changing image, new owners call the complex Ridgeview West.

"We just want to make this a place where families feel comfortable about who their neighbors are," Urie said. "Come next fall people won't even be able to recognize that this was Ridgeview."

Mulay just wants to be proud of where she lives. She's lived in other low-income apartments outside of major cities, but none have been as rundown or littered with evidence of crime and neglect as Ridgeview Apartments were when she moved in last summer.

"I hate the stigma that comes along with low-income housing," she said. "This place is really raising eyebrows about how it's changing. I think the word is getting around that this is a different place."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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