How Birmingham Housing plans to reduce crime at one of its sites

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By Joseph D. Bryant

Housing Authority of the Birmingham District

The president/CEO of Birmingham’s housing authority envisions a new look for Marks Village in the Gate City neighborhood with Tudor-styled homes, fewer buildings and more green space.

But equally as important, the safety of the community must be insured for all residents there, said Housing Authority of the Birmingham District CEO Michael Lundy.

Lundy and HABD officials recently outlined for residents both short-term and long-term goals for the community that is struggling to fight violence inside and outside its gates.

HABD plans to block more than a dozen entryways to limit street access to Marks Village. Currently 19 streets provide access to the 500-unit public housing complex. A proposed plan would reduce access points to three.

“We want to make this neighborhood vibrant, and everybody has a stake in the future of this community,” Lundy said. “We’re going to work on all fronts to remove issues of violence in our communities.”

Reduce criminal activity

The strategy is designed to make it harder for criminals to enter and quickly exit the complex through multiple streets that double as easy escape routes, officials said.  The proposal is a result of regular weekly discussions between HABD and the Birmingham Police Department.

The road closure plan is part of the housing authority’s broad public safety initiative discussed with residents.

“We have to take some of these extreme responses to insure the safety of this community,” Lundy said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to make this community completely safe.”

The streets are currently owned by the city of Birmingham, and HABD is working with city officials to close the entry points.

The city supports the proposal, but more meetings with first responders, police, mass transit and school officials are needed to determine the final list of proposed closings, Lundy said.

Lundy is optimistic that some barriers can be installed within two months.

Revitalization 

Officials also previewed early renderings for longtime revitalization of Marks Village. The plan includes reducing the number of buildings at the site from 500 apartment units to 200 units, increasing green space and remodeling the remaining buildings.

The apartments would be gutted and remodeled and redesigned into a traditional Tudor style. Marks Village improvements join the list of other major housing authority capital projects throughout the city. Lundy stressed that the overhaul is part of a long-term capital plan, with work beginning in two years.

“It’s going to take time. We don’t want to do it piecemeal and we want to do it right,” Lundy said. “While the remodeling is important, stabilizing the safety of this community must remain our most pressing priority.”

Marks Village resident Juliette Evans agreed that public safety is a shared responsibility.  Evans also expressed excitement over capital improvements on the horizon.

“We have to do our job,” she said. “Don’t be afraid because these are our lives and this is our community that we have to protect.”

Lundy also discussed the new HABD visitation policy. All visitors to the 14 HABD public housing sites must be listed on a registry. While Marks Village is not a gated community, people considered to be loitering will be asked by police if they are residents or registered visitors. If they are neither, then they will be asked to leave.

Lundy said the new rules are no different those in high-end and gated communities, and urged resident cooperation.