MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - It was once on the brink of foreclosure, where crime statistics nearly out numbered residents, but in the last few years a once grim apartment complex in Hickory Hill has become one of the biggest success stories in Shelby County.
It was a community effort that turned around the Autumn Ridge Apartments. The owner knew the complex couldn't survive without help from the community. The City and County knew it was a violent crime hot spot. In 2009, they teamed up. Now, just three years after a first of its kind pilot project to decrease crime, crime is down 80 percent and the violence is a thing of the past.
Looking at the neatly manicured lawn and kids playing quietly it's hard to imagine the Autumn Ridge Apartments through Terri Tuggle's eyes. "Folks getting robbed over here," Tuggle remembers, "being shot at. I didn't like it."
Leatrice Ailsworth wouldn't let her daughter step out the front door alone. "It was so destructive and bad at first," she says.
At one point the 140-unit complex was a hub of gang activity. It was home to murderers and rapists. The property's owner reached out to the City for change.
Twana Whitlock with the Agape Child and Family Services has been a key piece in that change. She runs a free after school program to keep kids occupied in place of gangs. "This has been absolutely positive," she says.
One of the first big moves the property made was adding security cameras. Many residents said it invaded privacy; management said, if they didn't like it they could leave. As Tuggle recalls, "A lot moved out." Ailsworth says it was for the better, "Some of them left because they don't want to follow rules."
Manager Debra McIntosh says the program, known as SAFEWAYS, turned the complex around. The collaboration with the City, County, law enforcement and district attorney's office, put all eyes on the once troubled apartments. Even security cameras are monitored by MPD's Real Time Crime Center. The effort got rid of the people most responsible for crime. Now they don't tolerate loitering or loud music.
This year, for the first time since her 11-year-old daughter was born, Ailsworth lets her walk outside on her own. Ailsworth says it's been a long journey to get here, "I thank God for these apartments. I thank God they didn't shut the apartments down."
The affordable housing complex is at 96 percent occupancy. They also do a thorough criminal background check on new residents.