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Landlords Tout Security Upgrades

Some in Pr. George's Call Fixes Cosmetic

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page B09

Men in white overalls coated apartment doors with fresh paint yesterday as Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson nodded his head in approval.

Security guards demanded identification at the entrance to the crime-ridden complex in Forestville. Long-ignored lawns gleamed with care.

"This is a celebration," said Tony Enrico, a senior property manager at the Forest Creek Apartments.

Last month, Johnson (D) placed Forest Creek on a list of 22 apartment complexes that generated 19,000 calls for police service last year, about one of every 20 calls to county police. He threatened to shut down these "breeding grounds" for criminals if landlords didn't make them safer. The county suspended Forest Creek's license to rent units.

Landlords at the site said yesterday that they have nearly tripled their monthly security costs to $25,000 and quadrupled the hours of security patrols.

In all, they said, they have spent $750,000 to upgrade the property. They plan to provide 10 rent-free apartments to teachers and police officers to help improve the quality of community life.

"We're really moving in the right direction, and we know together we can control our neighborhoods," Johnson said.

For several residents, however, there was not much to celebrate. They said they still had roaches, mice, leaks and mildew in their apartments. Drug dealers still loitered, and mothers were afraid to let their children play outside.

"Manicuring a property has nothing to do with drug dealers," said Robert Tyler, who has lived at Forest Creek for 25 years. "It needs to be a little more internal rather than external.

"They need to do a better job in monitoring who they allow on the property."

Jackie Johnson, 25, worries about her 7-year-old daughter, Monet, who said she heard gunfire the other day. Now, when Monet returns from school, her mother makes her stay inside. "You can't clean up the outside, and the inside is still a problem," said Johnson, who has lived at Forest Creek for three years.

The county's actions followed a series of meetings Jack Johnson held this week with most owners of apartment complexes he identified as major sources of crime. The owners, he said, have agreed to invest huge sums of money to improve their properties and fix code violations the county had uncovered. The county is also offering financial assistance for improvements.

Most landlords continue to dispute the core reason for landing on Johnson's list: the high volume of calls for police service from their complexes. They blame the high crime rates in their neighborhoods on what they call a shortage of police and poor response times.

Lesa Hoover of the Apartment and Office Building Association, which represents many of the managers and owners, said hardly any of the code violations were for issues that could endanger the lives of residents.

"These code violations have very little to do with crime," Hoover said. "Cracks in sidewalks may be life aesthetic issues, but they certainly don't cause crime."

James Keary, a spokesman for Johnson, said that "to call any violation minor is irresponsible."

Shaar Mustaf, a community social worker, said he welcomed any attempt to clean up what he described as a long-neglected nook of the county.

"This a great thing to do," he said. "It's about time someone takes the initiative to make a difference in this neighborhood."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company