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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

Reality and the Chicago connection

Eastern Iowa fears of the Chicago migration are nothing new, and they’re beginning to become cyclical. This is the lead of a big Sunday story in The Gazette on Aug. 18, 2003:

Christina McGowan remembers well those days when she lived on Chicago’s south side. She was called First Lady. She was respected and feared. She had money….

McGowan, 26, and her three children live in a two-bedroom Cedar Rapids apartment across the street from a cornfield, eking out a much more meager, but quieter, living.

“I am on my way to that happy ending, so to speak,” said McGowan, who moved to the area last year. “I think I was supposed to be dead or in jail right now.”

McGowan is among a growing number of new Eastern Iowans moving to the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Technology Corridor who are fleeing the poverty and crime of inner cities.

Many are coming from Chicago, which is displacing families while tearing down its projects and replacing them with mixed-income town houses. The majority are African-American families – typically single mothers with children.

But I just got off the telephone with a woman named Susan Popkin, and she doesn’t buy the notion that black people have left Chicago in large numbers as housing projects have been torn down.

Popkin is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., and she’s been tracking Chicago public housing for almost a decade. People who left Chicago’s old public housing have largely moved to other parts of Chicago, or the south suburbs, she said.

“They have not moved to Iowa,” she said. “They’re in Chicago.”

The gentrification of Chicago is the driving force behind any migration, she said.

Popkin admits no weaknesses in the Section 8 subsidized housing program that several people around here blame for importing Chicago problems into Eastern Iowa cities, except this:

High concentrations of Section 8 vouchers in one neighborhood can ruin a neighborhood, Popkin said. This is the contention of Dale Todd, a Wellington Heights resident who grew up in Chicago and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1974.

“When we develop concentrations of Section 8 housing…it can have a negative impact on the people we’re trying to help,” he said. “The inability of regular landlords to rent in that neighborhood forces them to turn to Section 8. It’s a cycle.”

Popkin said it’s up to the local housing authority to be prudent in how it directs the vouchers. This requires outreach to new landlords, so more will accept them, so the vouchers will be spread out evenly across a community.

“When you have a modest number of voucher holders in a neighborhood it’s often good for property values because it’s a guaranteed income stream for landlords,” she said.

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Filed under: Cedar Rapids Library, Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crime way down across the nation (and in C.R.)

The Washington Post is reporting huge declines in violent crime this year across the country: “The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades.”

While homicide is so rare in Cedar Rapids that it’s difficult to draw statistical conclusions about it, Cedar Rapids’ declining rates of reported crime reflect this national trend (whether you believe it or not).

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Public Safety, , , , , , , ,

The facts don’t lie, dude

I’ve been noticing something today about the crime is declining story I wrote for the newspaper.

A lot of people don’t believe it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know police had to chase down a woman after she tried to steal a bunch of meat from Hy-Vee (“Desperate times,” said Lt. Tobey Harrison. “You just never know.”), but when we try to identify whether crime is on the rise or on the decline, we have to use numbers.

The numbers are not perfect. For instance, some people have pointed out that if we want a true picture of how crime-ridden our town is today, we have to compare it to the 1990s or earlier. But Cedar Rapids police don’t have crime stats broken down by month from before 2006. This reflects a lack of PD transparency in past years. It also means I can’t compare the first six months of this year to the first six months of, say, 1995.

It’s quite possible that crime has increased so dramatically since the good old days of the 1990s that a few years of declining crime rates means very little. But the fact is that rates of assault, robbery, theft and homicide have declined not only since last year but also since 2006.

The story doesn’t get into this detail, but from the first half of 2006 to the first half of 2009, reported thefts dropped by 32 percent, assault by 18 percent and robbery by 23 percent. There were three homicides in the first six months of 2006, two in the first six months of this year.

It’s also possible police doctor the crime statistics they keep, but it seems like it would be counterproductive for them, and I doubt it. (If you know better, please prove me wrong.)

Anyone who would like to see the documents that show crime’s decline in C.R. should e-mail me at adam.belz@gazcomm.com and I’d be glad to share them. It’s too much of a hassle to post them to Scribd, because there are too many pages.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , ,

Hey! Crime is actually down in Cedar Rapids

It has declined dramatically.

The six-month crime statistics, released into my hot hands by police Wednesday, refute the popular perception (see soundbite from wild-eyed resident on local telecast) that crime is out of control and the city is growing less safe.

Compared to the first six months of 2008, robberies dropped by 36 percent. Theft dropped 35 percent. Assault dropped 14 percent. Burglary dropped 13 percent. Homicide held steady. There were two by the end of June in 2008, and there have been two so far this year (one of those, the Cain-and-Abel stabbing of Matthew Hanson by his brother Jason, was reduced in court to voluntary manslaughter and willful injury).

So things aren’t too bad.

“This is the difference between perception and reality,” said Sgt. Cristy Hamblin, spokeswoman for the Cedar Rapids Police.

Perception may have been skewed by the flareup of crime along First Avenue East that culminated in the life-threatening, community-wrenching, civil society-defying attack on Officer Tim Davis on March 29. He was assaulted while trying to break up an armed robbery, was injured very badly, was hospitalized for several weeks, was later fitted with a titanium plate in his skull, and now his return to the police force is uncertain.

Police responded by descending on Wellington Heights and Mound View, the neighborhoods that flank First Avenue from Coe College up to 19th Street.

They handed out jaywalking and loitering tickets and arrested 148 people in three weeks. Chief Greg Graham announced the department would open a new substation at the corner of First Avenue East and 15th Street in an effort to build trust among police, business owners and local residents.

But amid the community forums, marches against violence and calls for greater landlord accountability, 2009 has so far been a better year than 2008.

It’s also been better than 2006 — the earliest year for which police keep monthly crime stats — when there were 611 assaults reported by the end of June, compared to 413 this year.

“The officers are being more proactive, more directed, more focused on what they’re doing,” Capt. Bernie Walther, head of criminal investigation for the Cedar Rapids police, said. “They’re out there walking, making contact with the public.”

He said the assault on Davis was a “wakeup call” and the flurry of activity in subsequent weeks was the community’s response, but he rejects the widespread view that crime has been on the uptick.

“The bad stuff makes the headlines, and that’s what people see,” he said. “Between the city being brought down with the flood, with the economy, I think people are somewhat pessimistic and somewhat more likely to believe that things are worse than they really are.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , , , ,

Hot Property #6, 300 31st St. NE

And we’re back! Back on the tail of Cedar Rapids landlords who own properties that can’t stop attracting the police. Sorry for the delay. We’ve still got a map, and we’re up to property number six.

It’s the Flagstone Apartments at 300 31st St. NE.

Police were called there 99 times in 2008. There are 16 apartments at that address.

Most of what I see in the archives looks like minor stuff.

Gordon Duncombe, the owner, has an office in St. Michael, Minn. The name of his company is Can-West Management.

“We have a lot of people that the county put in there,” Duncombe said. “They get stupid and they call the cops on each other.”

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , , , , , ,

Evictions not easy, landlords say

Below is a story I’m working on. Any ideas? Jim Cannon, I know you’re out there!

Eleven years ago, one of Keith Smith’s tenants fell a couple months behind paying rent, and Smith prepared to evict the resident.

He hired a lawyer and took the case to small claims court. But a judge threw out the eviction because Smith filled out the paperwork incorrectly.

“It was the only case I’ve ever had thrown out, and it was a very expensive education,” said Smith, now the president of Landlords of Linn County.

Some 2,188 evictions were filed in Linn County in 2008, and another 710 in Johnson County. More than 60 percent resulted either in an eviction or the landlord dropping the eviction.

That left about 1,000 cases last year in the Corridor where the landlord and tenant duked it out in court. Landlords say these cases can be complicated and expensive.

A spring flurry of crime in some Cedar Rapids neighborhoods has pushed landlords into the spotlight, as neighborhood advocates and police ask them to take more responsibility for their properties.

In April, Terry Bilsland, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, accused some landlords of being indifferent to the neighborhoods where they own property.

“As long as the check comes, they don’t care who lives there,” Bilsland said. “On some streets, it’s the same houses year after year.”

The city is considering a requirement that landlords obtain city licenses and follow certain rules to keep their registrations — such as including a crime-free addendum on the lease or running background checks when tenants apply.

Tenants can be evicted for not paying rent, violating their lease, or posing a “clear and present” public safety danger. Landlords must serve a specific notices for each type of eviction and explain specifically what the tenant can do to fix the problem.

A mistake — not notifying a tenant she has three days to pay unpaid rent, or attempting to charge late fees over $40 — will lead to the case being thrown out.

“The biggest roadblock is not knowing what to do,” Smith said.
Smith maintains a 25-page document detailing each step of the eviction process.

Even in cases where police decide the tenant poses a clear and present danger, an officer must attend the court proceeding to testify against the tenant. Because in American courts the accused has right to confront her accuser, a letter from the police isn’t adequate.

“You can’t cross-examine that piece of paper,” said Jim Kringlen, managing attorney for Iowa Legal Aid’s Cedar Rapids office.

Iowa Legal Aid, which offers free legal services to the poor, defends about one tenant in eviction proceedings per week, Kringlen said, and they win most of the cases they take. Eight attorneys work for Legal Aid at the Cedar Rapids office, so they only take cases they think can be won.

“There’re a lot of landlords out there that know how to manage their property, and we don’t see them very often,” Kringlen said. “There’s probably just a certain, small, subset of landlords that aren’t good at managing their property.”

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

Hot Property #5: Cedarwood Hills Apartments, 2060 Glass Rd. NE

They’re the five brick apartment buildings way up on a hill looking down on Interstate 380 and Glass Road NE.

They’re marked separately on the map, but I’m treating them as one apartment complex.

If you take them together, which the city assessor’s office does, police were called there in 2008 more than any address in Cedar Rapids. 446 times.

They’re the Cedarwood Hills Apartments at 2060 Glass Rd. NE. The place has 180 units, and a search of Gazette archives shows a lot of police activity there.

Patice Bolden, the man jailed in the shooting death of Calvin Stringer in December 2007, listed Cedarwood Hills as his address. A man was accused of attempting to murder his girlfriend at Cedarwood Hills in the summer of 2007, and eventually was convicted of willful injury and assault with intent to inflict serious injury.

The apartments are owned by a Des Moines company called C.T. Corporation System, which is incorporated under Robert C. Thomson. The company’s home office is in New York City.

Track these properties on a map here.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Alternate map

Jeremy Cobert (of CR Tea Party fame) was kind enough to whip up another map based on the data I used to build the current map of hot Cedar Rapids properties.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #4: 3000 J St. SW

Moving right along (sorry about all the map problems), we’ll look at the top residential property on the Hot 100.

It’s the Cedar Valley Townhouses at 3000 J St. SW. The complex has 186 units in 28 buildings, so it’s really a little town of its own. Police were called there 331 times in 2008.

A lot of it was minor police blotter stuff — some assaults, some drunk driving arrests. A 15-year-old waved a revolver at somebody.

Assuming for the sake of argument that an average of three people lives in each unit, the number of police visits to Cedar Valley Townhouses pales in comparison to the number at several smaller properties, where only a couple dozen people might live.

The apartments are arranged on a circle drive on the west side of J Street, just north of the 33rd Avenue SW exit.

The property is owned by the Affordable Housing Network, a non-profit organization affiliated with Four Oaks that accepts Section 8 housing vouchers. It took over for the MidAmerica Housing Partnership after that organization failed.

The network operates rental properties in all four quadrants of Cedar Rapids.

I’ve learned not to make too many promises about what I’ll do with the map, but I am trying to put plenty of information in the bubble window that pops up when you cursor over a marker. See the map here.

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

Hot Property #3: 1261 First Ave. SE

Hampton Court Apartments

This is actually two apartment buildings — 1261 and 1263 First Ave. SE. I’ve got them listed separately on the map, but the two buildings are next door to each other, they both have 18 units and they’re owned by the same guy.

Police were called to one of the two buildings 279 times in 2008. That’s more than five times a week.

The company that owns the buildings is called simply 1261-1263 LLC, which was incorporated by James D. Houghton. Houghton lists an Iowa City home address.

His property’s history is a litany of drug and assault charges, and other types of police blotter items.

I called Houghton’s home, and left a message.

The questions I might ask these landlords are beginning to coalesce in my mind, thanks in large part to Ray T’s suggestions. I would appreciate further suggestions. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

– Why do police have to spend so much time at your property?
– Do you have an application process? What is it?
– Do you do background checks?
– Do you have rules on how many people live in each apartment?
– How often do you check on guests in your properties? What are your rules about guests?

Filed under: Public Safety, , , , ,

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