How is the Belleville crime-free program doing?

News-DemocratJanuary 29, 2014 

The city of Belleville's crime-free housing program cost $100,538 to implement and about 85 percent of the city's landlords or rental property owners are now certified.

The program has resulted in 12 tenant evictions.

City officials shared these statistics and more Wednesday during the first Crime Free Housing Committee meeting since the program went into effect in November.

The program was implemented to help reduce crime in rental housing and the committee is required to meet at least twice a year to evaluate the program.

Rental property makes up 34.5 percent of the city's housing stock, according to 2010 census data. Figures for criminal incidents in rental property was not immediately available.

Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella, chairman of the committee, said members will ensure that money generated from the program will be used exclusively on the crime-free program. City officials approved the program hoping it would pay for itself.

Committee members said it is too soon to know the true cost and effectiveness of the program but believe they will have a better idea when they meet in six months, on July 30.

Committee member Patty Herr said the committee might have to see whether it makes sense to lower registration fees.

Herr, a property manager who has been involved in the crime-free housing program in O'Fallon, said O'Fallon city officials lowered the registration rate from $50 to $45 per rental unit after assessing program costs.

Belleville's ordinance requires each rental unit to be registered with the city each year for $25.

Bob Sabo, the director of the city's departments of Health and Housing, and Building and Zoning, said 6,669 rental units are registered with the city as of Jan. 17.

The revenue from the registrations is $166,725, according to Sabo.

The program's expenses, which total $100,538 so far, include stationery, printing, mailing and supplies costs of about $3,574; temporary hires and employee overtime of about $5,181; raises for two secretaries in the Housing department totaling about $6,240; and the hiring of a police officer for $85,543.

Kinsella said a fee reduction is a possibility because much of the cost so far derives from the training seminars that landlords and property owners are required to attend.

But Sabo and Police Sgt. William Herling say that the work load likely will increase when the weather gets warmer. Three police officers are dedicated to the crime-free housing program, but neither would be surprised if a fourth is needed.

Since November, program officers reported on 260 rental incidents ranging from loud music to marijuana possession to failure to register as a sex offender, Herling said.

Of those incidents, 12 resulted in evictions. The crime-free housing ordinance requires landlords and owners to evict renters who commit felonies, misdemeanors or have four ordinance violations in a 6-month period.

One eviction process was started because a tenant was found to be a felon in possession of a weapon, Herling said.

Program officers responding to incidents at rental units fill out report forms that are then sent to the corresponding landlord or property owner.

Police Chief William Clay told the committee he initially was concerned not knowing how much the reports will be a burden on officers but, so far, officers have been able to complete every incident report.

The committee approved the Housing Department's request to spend $5,000 in overtime for training seminars in February and the Police Department's request for $56,407 for a vehicle for the program's officers.

The vehicle will be partially marked so residents will know it belongs to a city code enforcement officer, Clay said. And, the car will be equipped with a computer and shield so officers can transport and process people and not tie up a patrol officer.

There are three upcoming Crime-Free Housing seminars set for 6 p.m. on Feb. 12, Feb. 20 and Feb. 25 at City Hall.

Sabo said the city has held six training seminars. At this point, 1,082 landlords or property owners have been certified, which means they took a training seminar in Belleville or previously attended a training in another city with a recognized crime-free housing program.

About 190 landlords still need to attend the training and eight have been cited for not complying, Sabo said.

Residents Mary McHugh and Rose Wilson, who attended Wednesday's public meeting, applauded the city's work.

Wilson said residents living in the Franklin Neighborhood already see a difference in landlords complying with city ordinances they previously ignored.

"For once, people are not dreading summer to come," Wilson said.

Rick Brown, a Belleville landlord, said he wanted more information on the number and type of citations that have been issued.

Resident Michael Hagberg said the city should think twice about purchasing a vehicle for the crime-free program and instead use the squad car parked in front of the west end police substation that is meant to be a deterrent.

Mayor Mark Eckert thanked the 10-member oversight committee, which is a mix of elected officials, residents, landlords, tenants and real estate agents.

The members are Kinsella, Herr, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White, Patrick Eschman, Vanessa Smith, Tricia Tialdo, Walter Hood, Beverly Fiss, Kevin Bouse and John Durako.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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