WASHINGTON, D.C.—Fighting crime in a community sometimes begins when a developer walks up to the door of a resident and knocks.

“It is absolutely mandatory that developers create local relationships,” says Mark James, project manager for local affordable housing developer Community Preservation and Development Corp. (CPDC).

At communities here like Parkside, Edgewood Terrace, and Wheeler Terrace, CPDC has earned a reputation for cleaning up some of the toughest affordable housing projects in the city—always with eventual help from residents.

Here are some of the steps the developer takes:


Project managers like James visit their communities day and night to assess problem areas both on and off the property and to make sure lighting and other equipment are working. Also, by driving past a building as school is getting out or on a weekend evening, developers can observe a tremendous amount about the residents and the neighborhood.

Reach out to local police

The prior owners of a property may not have had a productive relationship with local law enforcement, especially if the owners were perceived as neglectful.

Explain your security plan to the police, make sure it matches their own efforts, and make them aware of positive changes as they occur.

Reach out to residents

Soon after CPDC takes control of a property, James offers to meet with resident leaders individually in their own apartments at whatever time they choose.

He gives residents his cell phone number, working to undo the sometimes adversarial relationship between residents and project owners by explaining the security plan, listening to resident concerns, and doing what he can to help.

Control access

CPDC usually limits access to its properties to one or two entries, often building fences, installing new locks, and posting cameras. To catch vandals, CPDC sometimes installs an easily visible dummy camera with a real video camera hidden nearby.

The developer often hires a security consultant along with more than enough security guards to require all visitors to sign in to the property day and night. If the property already has guards, CPDC assesses whether they are performing their jobs satisfactorily.

It can easily cost $20,000 to $40,000 a month to properly secure a site, according to James.

The nonprofit also works safety into its construction budgets. Contractors often charge 3 percent to 5 percent more to work in neighborhoods they think are unsafe, though they rarely admit to their reason for the charge, says James.

Enforce the lease

CPDC notifies residents that it will enforce the terms of tenant leases and the rules of the property, which may have been ignored for years by both residents and management. Residents who break the terms of the lease, especially households with a member with a criminal history, could face eviction.

Every part of a security plan will be easier to put into action with resident support. However, that support must be earned, since most parts of the plan will have something to annoy, inconvenience, or offend at least some of the residents.

“The proudest moments for me are whenever residents begin to defend your security plan,” says James. “They stop looking at it as a plan to box them in and begin looking at it as a plan to give them opportunity.”

Residents police the property

Like many affordable housing experts, James sees the turning point for a community fighting crime as the moment residents begin to police the community themselves and are willing to report illegal or unsafe activity to management or the police. “A successful security plan is one that puts itself out of business,” he says. “[However], it only happens if the residents become the primary policing force.”