Tuesday, January 02, 2001

Habitat brings stability to high-crime area

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Eight years ago, 36 police officers in cars, on foot and on horseback joined residents in Walnut Hills, facing off with drug dealers around the clock to take back streets near Setty Kuhn Terrace, a housing project.

        That was the first phase of Operation Take Back, and the city's Community Oriented Policing program.

        It was successful, with 13 drug-related arrests made the first day. The take back operation lasted three months and police records show that violent crimes dropped 71 percent.

        Today, Operation Take Back is taking a new approach. Through Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity's Shalom Project, that section of Walnut Hills is being rebuilt and repopulated.

Accepted challenge
               “We chose this area because it had been challenged by issues related to drugs and violence,” said John Cerniglia, director of Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity. “I think residents are feeling some comfort as they are seeing visible revitalization.”

        The fourth and fifth houses that Habitat has built at 850 and 852 Buena Vista soon will be occupied.

        On Friday, the owners took time to walk through their new homes.

        “I don't see any problem moving on this street since so many things have been done to clean up the area,” said Theresa Torrey.

        Ms. Torrey, 37, will move in next month with her three children: Ashley,17; Ashanti, 11, and Arius, 10.

        Her next-door neighbor will be Arletta Kollie, 36, and her four children; Angelica, 3; David, 8; Komehn, 10, and Sowonie, 12.

        “It doesn't bother me to move into this area,” said Ms. Kollie, who lives about a mile away on Fulton Avenue in Walnut Hills. “From what I have heard of the area before, they could've been shooting at us as we came in.”

        Shalom Project is composed of five churches: Mount Zion United Methodist, across the street from Setty Kuhn; Hyde Park Community United Methodist, Knox Presbyterian, St. Francis De Sales and St. Mary.

        Co-sponsors were Blue Chip Broadcasting Foundation, Firstar and Wells Fargo Housing Foundation.

        “We have seen a drastic change in the neighborhood,” said former state Rep. Helen Rankin Merritt, who heads the project for Mount Zion. ""I am there every day, and I can see families who are willing to let their kids play outside now.”

        Aside from the five Habitat houses, Firstar has renovated 50 units in the Kerper Apartments in the 3000 block of Kerper.

The Shalom Zone
               The four-square-block area, known as the Shalom Zone, includes a part of Gilbert Avenue, Blair, Al toona, Walter, Kerper, Buena Vista, Mathers, Gaff and Wehrman. It was not this tranquil eight years ago.

        Ruth Mitchell, then president of the Residents Council at Setty Kuhn, requested help from the city as drug dealings ran rampant up and down the side streets off Gilbert Avenue.

        But four years after the COP team cleaned up the area, Mrs. Mitchell saw signs of the drug activity creeping back.

        She called for help again, saying she didn't see much drug activity in the projects, but that it was going on in the surrounding streets.

        “If it is that close, it will eventually filter back into the projects,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

Renewed approach
               This time, the city brought its Cincinnati Neighborhood Action Strategy team, (CNAS) made up of representatives from recreation, public works, buildings and inspections, neighborhood services, police, fire, economic development and the health departments.

        The CNAS team set up speed bumps on Mathers and Altoona and made Walter a one-way street between Buena Vista and Altoona.

        In April 1996, police raided an apartment in the 2900 block of Gilbert Avenue and made two drug-related arrests.

        “I grew up in the project when the drug dealing was all around. You thought twice about going outside to play,” said Andrea Howard, 19, who lives on Kerper in one of the Habitat houses. “It is a big difference now. This is like a real community; quiet and children not afraid to play outside.”


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