Buckner Court, Welch Court, Albright Court, Scott Joplin Court, McAnally Court.
These streets are well known to Sedalia Police Department officers. They’re frequently called to this area, the Sedalia Housing Authority, on calls ranging from assault to trespassing to possession. Some of the residents have racked up so many charges officers can recite their entire criminal history.
When he transferred from the SPD’s STING Unit back to patrol earlier this year, Officer Larry Parham decided to take on the Housing Authority as a special project.
“For me it’s personal, my mom used to live over there and she’d watch our two boys when they were young,” he said. “But now it’s changed. Housing Authority has become a place where we’re always getting calls out there. I want to see it cleaned up.”
Funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, public housing provides rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly and those with disabilities. Currently Sedalia has 193 units of low-rent housing and generally all units are full.
“There’s a stigma about public housing, people calling it the projects,” said Sedalia Housing Authority Executive Director Doug Brown. “But really, we’re here to provide safe, affordable housing for those who need it.”
Brown, who came on as director in January, said his focus for the next year is figuring out how to be “a good neighbor” to the surrounding area.
“We’re working on partnering with different agencies — Pettis County Community Partnership, Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Club — to help develop relationships,” he said. “We need to be a team player in this community.”
As for the stigma associated with those who live there, Brown said it was misconstrued.
“We’re a diverse group. But the vast majority of our people are doing things the right way. Any landlord will tell you there are always a few tenants that take a majority of their time,” he said.
Part of the agency’s renewed cleanup efforts involve knowing exactly who is on an apartment’s lease. Federal rules say those who are not listed on the lease may not stay there and the Housing Authority has given SPD officers permission to issue trespass warnings on its behalf.
“If we issue a trespass warning and they come back, we can arrest them and get charges going,” Parham said. “This project is really a two-pronged approach: get rid of the bad guys and beef up community policing. It’s about being seen. We obviously want the bad guys to know we’re there, that we’re watching. But, we also want people to be comfortable talking to us. If there’s a problem that we can help with, we will.”
While the SPD is taking care of the criminal element, Brown and his crew are focusing on day-to-day problems, like trash piling up.
“You look at something like the trash that spreads here,” he said. “That’s an easy fix, we just needed to get new lids for the Dumpsters. Something so simple to fix helps us clean up the place and also will hopefully inspire our residents to take pride in the area.”
Similar to Parham’s two-pronged approach, Brown has three goals for the area: tenant compliance for regulations and operations, providing resources so tenants can be successful and improving curb appeal.
“Every situation is different but our ultimate goal is to get people moved through public housing,” he said. “The elderly or disabled typically stay longer, we have some young families trying to get established and work on their employment. But the goal isn’t for them to be here forever, we want them to do well and move on from here.”
Brown is also looking into providing activities that bring out the residents.
“I’d like to have a Father’s Day event in June, we have a great community room facility here and it’s really under-utilized,” he said.
Both Parham and Brown said they knew the project was just the first step in a long process.
“It’s going to take some time. I’d like to see a call log, six months from now, to see if this had any effect on how often we’re getting called out there,” Parham said. “This is the first step, we’re just getting started with this.”