Complex's crime troubles neighbors

People who live near an apartment complex where a young man was shot and killed Monday say it's time for the city to put an end to crime at the complex – even if it means tearing the place down.

The Idlewild Apartments in east Charlotte have been a crime magnet for years, neighbors and police say.

In the past year alone, the complex has reported 63 burglaries, 18 larcenies and 11 aggravated assaults.

The 362 apartments are clustered in decaying, single-story brick buildings near the Idlewild Road-Independence Boulevard intersection, just a few blocks south of the tidy, tree-lined Coventry Woods subdivision.

This week, members of the Coventry Woods Neighborhood Association e-mailed Charlotte City Council members to “urgently request” the city do something about the complex.

“The complex is a disaster; its out-of-state owners do not work with CMPD to maintain safety there,” says the e-mail, from the association's board of directors. “The longstanding notoriety of Idlewild Apartments is of great concern to nearby neighborhoods whose well-being is called into question by proximity to this complex.”

It's unclear if Monday's shooting was an accident or a homicide. Calvin Dewayne Black, 21, was shot in the company of several other people, police said. No charges have been filed, and police have sent the case to prosecutors to decide whether charges are warranted, said Detective Susan Sarvis. She has declined to release more details.

The neighborhood association is calling on police to report on safety issues at the complex and on efforts to get cooperation from its out-of-state owners.

It wants a city revitalization plan for the Independence corridor to include a strategy for fighting crime in and near the apartments.

It also wants the Charlotte Housing Authority to remove the complex from its list of places it considers safe for Section 8 tenants. Twenty-two tenants there receive rent assistance through Section 8 vouchers from the housing authority, said CHA spokeswoman Jennifer Gallman.

“I've lived in the neighborhood for 16 years, and that complex has been a problem for as long as I've lived there,” said Bill Cooper, the neighborhood association's treasurer. “If the owner can't run it satisfactorily … it should be bulldozed, and they should find a better use for the property and find somewhere better for people to live.”

Chatham Associates of Marblehead, Mass., owns the complex, county tax records show. Calls to the business went unreturned this week. Complex manager Joanna Zulaga also hasn't returned calls from the Observer, and no one answered the door at the office Thursday.

City officials have tried to build relationships with the owners of troubled apartment complexes, said council member Nancy Carter, who represents the east side. But it's a challenge because of high tenant turnover and the isolation of large complexes from surrounding neighborhoods, she said.

Police are working on an ordinance to crack down on absentee landlords who fail to maintain order and conditions on their property.

“When it comes to violent crime, it is one of the more problematic complexes in the division,” said police Capt. Pete Davis, the Independence Division commander. “It's a resource drain … We have a two-person robbery unit, and they spend the vast majority of their time in that complex.”

Davis said police have been working with city housing inspectors to improve lighting and cut down on vegetation criminals can hide behind.

But solving the problem will take more than just fighting crime, said council member Anthony Foxx, who has toured the complex with police.

“It's a difficult situation in that area in particular because it typifies the difficulties we face throughout the city with absentee landlords, high concentrations of affordable housing, crime and neighborhood health,” Foxx said. “All of those things intersect in a situation like this.”