Opinion: Apt. owners, managers understand need for safe housing

ajc.com

As violent crime has risen dramatically throughout metro Atlanta in recent years, this unfortunate wave has not spared the region’s apartment communities. Particularly for those residents in higher-crime neighborhoods, safety at home is never taken for granted.

Similarly, the apartment industry should never take for granted – or accept as business as usual – the problems identified in the AJC’s series “Dangerous Dwellings”. Instead, we must strive for all to do better.

In most cases, we do. That is because most professional apartment owners and managers value their residents and employees’ safety above all else. While it would be impossible to guarantee that no residents or their guests will commit crimes, or for management to prevent domestic altercations from occurring at an apartment community, responsible apartment owners and managers do all that they can to prevent those unfortunate occurrences.

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Jim Fowler

Credit: contributed

Jim Fowler

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Jim Fowler

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

There are limits, understandably, on how far apartment owners and managers can go to ensure safety. For example, our members cannot quickly evict residents who sell illegal drugs or commit other crimes. Residents engaging in criminal activity must go through the same eviction process as a non-payment situation, which under the current operating procedures of the courts and marshals is taking six months or more across metro Atlanta. We also are not permitted, under strict HUD guidelines, to issue blanket denials to prospective residents with criminal records.

One of our members describes an ongoing scenario in which a resident stopped paying rent in November 2021. This same resident has someone else living in their apartment who was deemed a serious menace to the community, brandishing a weapon and harassing apartment staff. But the resident and their guest remain, as the owner’s repeated requests for an expedited eviction have been to no avail for months.

Our members also are at the mercy of police protocols. Due to lack of adequate staffing at local police departments, members have reported that it can take up to two hours for police to respond to calls.

So what are we doing to ensure better safety at apartment communities? Our industry has widely adopted the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CEPTED) standards as apartment communities are being constructed or rehabbed. These are guiding principles to design communities in a way that promotes safety and decreases opportunities for criminal activity to occur. Examples include gated parking with increased lighting, ensuring landscaping does not obstruct views or create hiding places and implementing lighting and surveillance systems that enhance police search, patrol and pursuit.

Our members also maintain a high utilization rate of courtesy officers, or public safety officers, who live at apartment communities at a discounted rent in exchange for conducting basic security services. Just last month, the Atlanta Apartment Association hosted a program in partnership with the Atlanta Police Foundation with attendees representing more than 100 different communities in Atlanta to discuss crime-prevention strategies. This included conversations around how to build stronger relationships with police zone commanders, conduct crime prevention assessments, install security cameras and screen residents.

We also are partnering with members of Atlanta City Council and Mayor Andre Dickens’ office to improve and promote community policing efforts. The partnership includes providing financial assistance from the city to public safety officers to make housing more accessible to them in each of the six Atlanta police zones. The Atlanta Police Foundation will administer the program to supplement the officer’s income as needed, while our Association will promote participation across the city and address any fair housing or financial concerns related to adjusting income qualification requirements to ensure officers can access desired housing.

We also have jumped in to help residents being displaced by the closing of Forest Cove, a neglected apartment community in southeast Atlanta that was recently condemned, as noted in the AJC series. With financial assistance from the mayor’s office, our members have thus far provided nearly all of the 200 units requested for families moving out of Forest Cove. We won’t stop until the full 200 families have been served.

While maintaining excellent quality of life and employing safety measures is the industry standard, there unfortunately are some bad actors – as depicted by the AJC – that must be held accountable. More focus must be placed on encouraging local governments to use their resources to adequately enforce the laws that are already in place to protect residents’ health and safety. Georgia law authorizes cities and counties to require the repair, closing or demolition of any rental property deemed unfit and grants full authority for the adoption and enforcement of local habitability standards. Georgia law clearly states that property owners are liable for failure to make repairs. To avoid situations like those depicted in this recent series, local governments must do their part and enforce these laws.

Further, removing constraints and providing financial resources for building and maintaining new affordable housing must be a top priority at all levels of government to improve low-income housing options.

Our association and our members take seriously the safety of our residents. They are the lifeblood of our business and deserve to live in quality homes where they are not threatened with crime each time they come home.

Jim Fowler is president of the Atlanta Apartment Association, which represents over 1,200 member companies consisting of 340 companies managing 400,000-plus apartment homes and over 800 businesses that provide products and services to the industry.