How The City Helped Transform A House And Neighborhood

By Brent Champaco

It might be manicured and bear a “For Sale” sign today, but a house near Wards Lake Park in Lakewood is a testament to the persistence of the City’s Community Safety Resource Team and Police Department.

The single-family, two-story home located on 25th Avenue Court South wasn’t always in market-ready condition. In fact, it was a trouble spot for the Lakewood Police Department and neighbors for years.

CSO Dawn McGinnis says the house used to be a rental home, and the stuff the tenants were doing was anything but neighborly, or legal.

Theft, drugs, prostitution – the kind of stuff that brings a neighborhood down and can keep it there.

“It was a bad spot,” McGinnis said. “There were lots of calls for service there. We’d be out there regularly. We finally decided that it was in the neighborhood’s best interest to fix this.”

The City of Lakewood placed the onus of stopping the house's activity – and making the Wards Lake Park neighborhood safer – on its shoulders. It was a job that required heavy lifting.

At first, McGinnis said, the City contacted the former owner of the home, who made clear that stopping the illegal activity and improving the neighborhood was not a priority.

Still, the City wasn’t deterred. It began building a case – legally – to require more from the owner and tenants. It tried contacting the home’s renters, the identity of whom were unknown to the owner at times. Police began running background checks, and many of the tenants “were known to law enforcement,” McGinnis said.

Meanwhile, the City’s Code Enforcement built its case as to why the home wasn’t safe or sanitary.

“The conditions they were exposed to in that house were just atrocious,” McGinnis said. “Filth, a dilapidated state – it wasn’t suitable for anyone.”

It was through that work that the City was able to force the former owner to meet basic occupancy standards. The owner couldn’t afford to make those changes and eventually gave the home up to foreclosure.

But there was still the issue of the illegal activity that had plagued the home for years. Credit the City and the home’s neighbors for that fix. CSRT made routine checks of the house and neighborhood. The structure was boarded up, and the officers’ presence prevented people from squatting or stealing.

More importantly, the City established a direct line of communication with once-skeptical neighbors. Through Lakewood’s persistence, residents realized the City was neither leaving them nor their concerns on an island. That meant plenty to a neighborhood that, at times, was scared to walk outside because of the illegal activity next door.

“There was one neighbor, a lady, who broke down in tears,” McGinnis recalled. “She was scared to walk outside. She was scared to let her granddaughter play outside. Now, her granddaughter plays outside all the time.”

“It’s like the skies opened and the sun started to shine down on this neighborhood again,” she said.

Today, the once-dilapidated house is on the market by a new owner who gave it a much-needed makeover. At last check, the four-bedroom, three-bath home was listed on Zillow.com for $275,000. It sports a lush, green front lawn – mowed charitably by a few neighbors - and a rescued palm-like tree near the driveway.

And none of it, McGinnis says, would have been possible without the persistence of the City and neighbors.

“It took a lot of hard work from everybody,” she said. “Bottom line is the City had a direction and we kept on it. We weren’t going to give up on this neighborhood.”