This Old Housing Project

Page 3 of 11

Now, as the signs suggest, East Village is full of suspicion and mistrust. Around the neighborhood, much of the grass is either dead or vanished, replaced by dirt. Residents say Casden deliberately turned off the water. But it turns out that the sprinkler lines were busted this spring when AT&T hired a subcontractor to bury the neighborhood's cable lines. They still haven't been fixed.

Residents are wary of police, too. The once-lauded open spaces have at times proved a perfect venue for drug dealers and buyers. "It was not designed well as defensible space," says Jim Murphy, a vice president with Urban Inc., the company that owned and managed East Village until 1998. There were days when East Village was home to gangbangers openly selling drugs. Days when cops didn't even want to drive through the neighborhood, fearing they would be shot at.

Cliff Jackson, the property's manager, says that in the last year, there has not been one shooting incident at East Village. But there still is occasional trouble. East Village (including Arrowhead and two neighboring high-rise towers) received 2,156 calls for police service from January 1999 through April 2000.

Most of the troubles at East Village are drug troubles. Though Jackson has made twenty drug-related evictions in the last year and a half, he maintains that the level of drug activity has decreased in the last few years: "I used to see zombies running around here between the buildings." Police records back him up; only a small percentage of police calls in recent months have been drug-related.

Nonetheless, police say they have recently seen an increase in drug activity. Just last week, during a quiet evening, a half-dozen undercover and uniformed cops materialized out of nowhere to apprehend a fleeing suspect; he and a colleague were arrested after selling crack to undercover cops. One of the men doesn't even live in East Village. The dealer himself is the nephew of a resident.

In fact, many of the arrests in East Village don't involve residents. Despite the signs, trespassing is common, and a lot of the trespassers are transients. Booted out of the triangle park in front of the Good Samaritan House, then forced out of Sonny Lawson Park after fences were installed, they've migrated to East Village. Sometimes they'll hang out in the hallways or sleep under the stairwells. Captain John Costigan, who runs the Denver Police Department's vice and narcotics bureau, says that most crimes are committed by outsiders: "A very small percentage are people who actually live there."

Although some residents welcome a police presence in the area, others resent it. Trespassing tickets are common. If you're on your way to visit a relative, you may get by. If you're on your way to visit a friend, the cops will want to know who your friend is, and, many residents believe, they'll probably still write you a ticket. You can try your luck with a judge. "You ask 'em to come fix a problem, they come harass you instead," says East Village resident LeVetta Brown. One recent evening, five officers stopped two kids who were about a hundred steps from their East Village apartment.

"I don't think it's a matter of harassment," says Jackson. "If a police officer stops you and runs his little check on you, I don't think that's a problem of being harassed. It's a deterrent to keep some of the transients and unwanted people off the property."

Costigan says the trespassing law is an effective tool, but "occasionally someone who is a friend of one of the tenants or a new tenant will be contacted. We try to make our contacts as friendly as possible. But it can be a problem."

What with the police, the dead grass and the rumors of what will happen, it's no wonder that cardboard boxes line the apartments of many residents. People are starting to pack up now, just in case they're told to leave come September. And the dilemma for many is simply whether to save up to get new clothes and school supplies for their kids or save up for a deposit on a new place.

Resident Karen Thompson is already looking for a new apartment. She's starting to "declutter" her apartment in preparation for a move. "What is there to stay for?" she asks. "They haven't promised me anything."

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T.R. Witcher