Tulsans take various approaches to 61st and Peoria's problems
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Sunday, January 13, 2013
1/13/13 at 7:41 AM
Get the latest news on the Fairmont Terrace homicides: Read coverage of the apartment complex killings and on other homicides in the area nearby.
Section 8 housing exists in two forms
Investigative report: After latest homicides, neighbors try to understand what went wrong
Original Print Headline: Area's problems stem from various circumstances
Rep. Jeannie McDaniel recalls asking the manager of St. Thomas Square how she came up with a new name for the apartment complex.
Police and others had taken to calling the complex at 61st and Peoria "Gun Gardens," a twist on its former name of Sun Gardens, due to the shootings there. The name changed in 1996; the problems remained.
The manager told her she'd always wanted to visit St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. McDaniel - who headed the mayor's Office of Neighborhoods at the time - still cringes at the irony.
"The sad thing is where you have that density of people who don't have much hope, you have some people making bad choices," said McDaniel, D-Tulsa.
In addition, out-of-state property owners "don't have to see what is happening. ... They just want the money coming in," she said.
Four women were shot to death Monday at the Fairmont Terrace apartments, among four "project-based" complexes that receive Section 8 federal housing subsidies. The slayings shocked a community some say has grown accustomed to a certain level of violence there.
The Tulsa World polled community leaders, policy makers and others for their thoughts on what led to the crime and social ills in the area and how to ensure residents' safety.
SUSAN SAVAGE, Tulsa mayor, 1992-2002
Savage said she took a "fix the broken windows" approach to dealing with the area.
"There were no quick fixes. This was a long-term problem that would be addressed with focused and strategic efforts ... and the involvement of many entities," she said.
"One specific example from the 61st and Peoria area was enormously successful. The city of Tulsa in partnership with THA worked with the Resolution Trust Corp. for the acquisition and eventual demolition of the abandoned Village Square Apartments."
The project was complete in 2000, and 87 new homes were owner-occupied.
KATHY TAYLOR, Tulsa mayor, 2006-2009
Taylor said the city worked with many partners to tackle the crime problems.
"We did layering of data - crime data, fire data, dropout rates - all those indicators of a stressed area."
The Community Service Council hired "street outreach workers" to go into high-crime areas and work with gang-involved youths, including at 61st and Peoria, Taylor said.
"We also discovered Tulsa was one of the few cities that didn't have a community intervention center. ... The only place to take them was the county jail."
Taylor maintained her belief in using data to spot developing problems. Then-Police Chief Ron Palmer adopted a data-tracking program known as CompStat in 2009, still used today.
"We should get very angry when there's a tragedy like this, but we have to consistently maintain that sense of urgency. ... It takes all of us, even if it's not happening in your neighborhood."
DWAIN MIDGET, city of Tulsa director of community development and education
Midget said he heard about issues in the area after starting to work for the city in 1984. Today, he and other city officials face the same challenges.
The city acquired and demolished dilapidated housing there in August, and officials are trying to bring out-of-state property owners to the table, he said. Mayor Dewey Bartlett and others are also examining possible changes to city ordinances.
But an unfair stigma remains that harms residents, Midget said.
"They are what we call the working poor. They just need a little assistance in order to make it."
JOHN PIERCEY, former apartment developer and Tulsa County financial adviser
Piercey purchased several apartment complexes in the area and said the Section 8 properties were "a plague on the rest of the market."
"That's not a commentary on the people or the residents. In fact, I tried to buy a couple of them just to get rid of them," he said. "I was delusional in thinking you could change the pattern."
Piercey said that when federal officials allowed project-based complexes in south Tulsa, "all they did was duplicate the issue and prove the fact that it wasn't north vs. south."
A Tulsa World story in 2002 reported that a Piercey family partnership received loans from the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to purchase and rehabilitate nine properties, including property in the 61st and Peoria area.
The authority approved $30 million five years later to allow another entity to purchase the same properties.
"I never made a lot of money on those because I put money back into them," Piercey said then.
DRAKE SHEARER, general manager of Warehouse Market grocery stores
Warehouse Market, a locally owned company with 16 stores, has operated a store at 61st and Peoria since 1971. The store takes security precautions, including having an armed guard. Most employees and customers live in the area, Shearer said.
"We haven't had any big problems really. ... We take care of the neighborhood, and they take care of us," Shearer said.