Drug trafficking and other crimes are rampant in an apartment area of Los Angeles known as "The Jungle," but some landlords, among others, are banding together to make things change.
Eric Crumpton is one. He owns about 150 units in seven buildings in the area, which spreads from La Brea Avenue on the west to Hillcrest Drive on the east and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the north to Santo Tomas Drive on the south.
In September, he bought 100 units on three different sites, and 45 of those apartments were occupied by what Crumpton described as "people involved in unlawful activities: They were doing drugs, robbing people, snatching purses, doing everything to keep the community on a downward trend."
Crumpton evicted these tenants, and now he is rehabilitating the buildings with his own funds.
"We're working to take control of this negative element, even if we have to strip our own personal bank accounts," he said of his and other landlords' efforts.
Another landlord who requested anonymity, said, "As an apartment owner, I've been working closely with the city's narcotics squad, telling who they should hit (with a drug raid). I live in the community and feel that I must invest in the community."
He invested in a 27-unit apartment building there that had three separate drug-dealing operations working simultaneously. "And some of the tenants were users," he added. "Without support of the narcotics division, it would have been impossible to get these people out."
He's supportive of the police. So is Crumpton. So are other members of the community intent on cleaning up "The Jungle," which has about 10,000 people and 5,000 apartments.
They're so supportive that they are planning a reception for the Los Angeles Police Department's Southwest Division on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Jim Gilliam Recreation Center, 4000 S. La Brea Ave.
Gilbert Fernandez, executive director of the Good Shepherd Center for Independent Living Inc., said, "We're showing the police department (through the reception) that we support them."
The reception will be hosted by the Crenshaw Apartment Improvement Program, a nonprofit corporation that Crumpton heads, but Fernandez--who has an interest in the area because of his organization's need for decent and affordable as well as accessible housing--and Emerson Everage, who is president of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, will be there too.
"We're working together--landlords, business people and others in the community--because with strength, we think, we can overcome our problems," Everage said.
Problems in "The Jungle" are not limited to crime. As Capt. Terry Dyment, commander of the police department's Southwest Division, observed:
"If you go in there and drive around, you'll see some apartments that are nicely maintained, with owners who have a genuine concern that their properties have a pleasant appearance and that their tenants cause no problems.
"You'll also see apartments whose owners obviously don't care as much about who they rent to or what the apartments look like. These are the apartments where there is narcotics activity and where people reside who are involved in robberies, burglaries and thefts in the area."
These apartments are run-down, often with boarded-up windows and graffiti-marred walls.
"The problem is management," George Thomas Jr., a local builder and developer, asserted. "Real estate syndications still control the vast majority of the apartments, and members of these syndicates live elsewhere, so they don't care."
Probably the worst landlord, though, is not a syndication. It is the city of Los Angeles, which owns a 24-unit apartment complex on La Brea Avenue that has been vacant for at least 13 years.
That's when Veniore Robinson moved in as a watchman. "I came here at the end of '72," he recalled, "and it was vacant before that." The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development owned the building when he moved there.
HUD had taken the property through foreclosure. "We sold it twice after that and took it back both times through foreclosure," Fred Stillions, in HUD's Los Angeles office, said.
HUD finally sold it to the city's Housing Authority for $1 in 1980, and although the Housing Authority was supposed to rehabilitate the building and rent it to low-income families, the building is still an eyesore.
Fires in Living Room
"I've had my problems with the place," Robinson acknowledged. "People come in and sleep here when it's cold. They've set fires (in the middle of living room floors) to keep warm. One year, I had a problem with people bringing old cars into the parking area and stripping them out. Now I have a problem with people dumping trash here when I'm not around."
Robinson lives there with his wife, 3-year-old daughter and two Great Danes--his "protection," he says.