Pubdate: Thu, 30 Aug 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)

Program Helps Tenants Reclaim Their Homes

Crime-Free Multi-Housing Seminars Encourage Creating a Safe Place To

Pat Heslegrave doesn't mince words when describing what life used to
be like in a pair of four-storey apartment buildings on Esquimalt's
Dominion Road.

"It was, what would you call it? Oh, a hellhole," said Heslegrave, a
spry-looking 70-year-old, whose four years living in one of the
buildings make her the most senior tenant.

"I didn't want to move into it. There were parties, drugs, foul
language and inconsiderate people."

That was a couple of years ago. Yesterday, the apartments at 788 and
790 Dominion became the first certified buildings in the Victoria
Police Department's Crime-Free Multi-Housing program -- best described
as landlord-training seminars focused on security and

The changes in the low-income housing block have been dramatic, say

"People are starting to think of this as a home now," said Heslegrave.
"The attitude is fantastic."

Victoria police say these two four-storey buildings used to be among
the worst in the city for domestic disputes, assaults, drug activity
and general all-round complaints.

But last year came a breakthrough. The two buildings were sold, say
the landlords. The new owners committed to improvements, and sent
their new building managers to train with Crime-Free

The result has been an 88 per cent reduction in police calls this year
compared with last year at the site, said Const. Derek Tolmie, who
helps run the seminars.

Another 30 to 40 apartment buildings in the region are set to be
certified by next year, said Tolmie.

"I know it's going to have a huge impact on reducing the draw on the
police department," said Esquimalt Mayor Chris Clement.

The Crime-Free Multi-Housing program started in Arizona and is now in
800 North American communities. It educates landlords to select more
trustworthy tenants, improve building security and organize "safety
socials" among tenants for a greater sense of community among neighbours.

At the two Dominion Road apartments, tenants were hired to paint and
repair damage. They installed outdoor lights, removed shrubbery that
provided hiding spots for criminals and thinned out fencing. In the
process, the tenants became invested in the building's upkeep, said
office manager Jan Collins.

Meanwhile, on-site manager Cliff Worth started evening patrols.
Tenants signed new leases that specified no criminal activity,
including smoking marijuana. The rules were enforced through frequent
inspections, he said.

Nobody was targeted or evicted, but troublesome tenants started to
question whether it was worth the hassle, said Worth. Around 15 of the
40 suites were vacated and rented to tenants who underwent more
rigorous reference checks. "If you let the bad tenants stay, the good
ones leave as well, and the reverse is true," said Al Kemp, CEO of the
Rental Owners and Managers Society of B.C., which helps train
landlords in the program.

Everyone agrees the key to success was a proactive building owner.
That's not always easy to find in a market tenant advocates say
encourages owners to build condos for profit rather than maintain old
rental buildings.

Earlier this month, municipal officials condemned four Esquimalt
apartment buildings on Carleton Terrace due to poor living conditions,
evicting the tenants. The owner said he wants to build condos on the

Dvora Levin, who manages the Crime-Free Multi-Housing program for
police, said responsibly run apartment buildings can still be
profitable. "You can make more money if you run your building well,"
she said.

The owners of the Dominion Road apartments didn't want to be
identified yesterday, although records show they also own the City
Centre Plaza at 1483 Douglas St.

Even with all the work, the building managers say there are no plans
to raise the rents. A two-bedroom suite with new carpet and paint in
the reinvigorated buildings still rents for $750 a month.
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