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"When the good people have to hole up and won't come out because they fear for their safety, that's just not right." - Linda Adams, Westheight Village manager

ROAD T0 RECOVERY

In one KCK neighborhood, crime is down and middle-class residents have stopped leaving. The Kansan examines how the Westheight Village area brought about this dramatic change.


by MIKE BELT
of the Kansan

Two years ago Shirley Dunklin was ready to move out of the apartment she'd lived in for 10 years.

She had seen Westheight Village Apartments deteriorate and the criminal element increase. The same thing was happening in parts of the surrounding neighborhood east of 18th Street along Washington Boulevard.

"There was a lot of drug trafficking," Dunklin recalled during a recent inverview. "This place was going totally downhill. It was going down real fast."

Westheight Village was getting new ownership at the time but Dunklin was skeptical. She had already seen four owners come and go. Why would this one be any different?

Today Dunklin still lives in her Westheight Village apartment. She didn't move out after all and now she has no plans to go anywhere else.

"It's a lot better," she said. "At night you don't hear the gunshots anymore. It's well lit here. You don't have the trouble that you once had."

Linda Adams manages Westheight Village under a family onwership group she is in with her sons. They own other properties in Kansas City, Mo., and Columbia, Mo.

"This was difficult," Adams said of Westheight Village. "This was definitely our most challenging piece of property."

Now the apartment complex is in the middle of a revival as is the neighborhood surrounding it. Much of the criminal element has been forced out.

At the same time the exodus of hard-working, middle-class residents has been stopped. Instead more like them are coming in. Among the residents at Westheight Village are three ministers, at least one attorney and one police officer.

Moreover, at the urging of Adams, a neighborhood group has taken shape in the last few months. Known as the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, it is attempting to address some of the problems that have occurred in the area in the past as well as begin providing local activities.

When Adams called for a first meeting last winter to start the association 19 people showed up. At the second meeting a month later there were about 30 in attendance.

"Crime watch is one component of our group but we are not just a crime watch group." Adams said.

After Adams took over the apartment complex two years ago she began taking the necessary legal steps to rid it of the troublemakers. It has taken time but the efforts have paid off. It could also have been dangerous for the 61-year-old grandmother.

"When the good people have to hole up and won't come out because they fear for their safety, that's just not right," Adams said. "If you let them stop you then they've won."

Problems weren't just in the apartment complex. There were drug houses and illegal drug activity going on in the surrounding blocks. Although things still aren't perfect and there still are a couple of troubled areas in the neighborhood, police activity has shut down much of it, Adams believes.

Since taking over the complex Adams has overseen renovation of the buildings. There are a total of 52 apartments and there are now 14 left to renovate. A community garden was started and residents, in particular several senior citizens living in the complex, take care of it.

The Boulevard Neighborhood Association includes not only apartment complex residents but other property owners in the neighborhood as well as business owners. Cynthia Allen, executive director of the Wyandotte County Chapter of the American Red Cross, is the association's treasurer.

The Red Cross office is located across the street from the Westheight Village and has been there since 1955. Allen has worked at the Red Cross office for 19 years and has seen the decline of the neighborhood. Now, she said, there is a growing mixture of good residents in the area.

"There really is an improvement in the neighborhood and a lot of the credit belongs to Linda," Allen said. "She has shown remarkable leadership abilities and it was definitely needed."

Cassandra Pennington, who owns a nearby duplex and who is acting secretary for the association, returned to live in the neighborhood four years ago. Her family owned a residence there for years and she lived there the first five years of her life. A neighborhood association was long overdue, she said.

"I've seen a number of transitions in this neighborhood," said Pennington, a school teacher. "There was some instability and problems with drugs and that nonsense but it has improved."


from The Kansas City Kansan, Tuesday, June 6, 2000; pp. 1 & 2.


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