Landlord reduces crime 96% in Cleveland Avenue community | Crime solutions
A landlord dedicated to creating communities centered around safety and families is seeing a transformation at her properties.
A landlord who wanted to invest in people, not property
Lowering the crime rate
A landlord's plan to lower violence in a community
Building the village
A landlord pushes for programs to help the youngest Georgians
Making community connections
If children were the focus, schools had to be involved
Keeping the mission moving and affordable
Teaching other communities
People want to feel safe in their communities — no matter where they live in Atlanta.
But often, when properties are bought, it becomes a race to the highest rent rather than an investment in the people living there.
A landlord in southwest Atlanta noticed, just like in monopoly, that when searching for that place to call their own, it's a lot easier for people to feel safe on the expensive side of the board than over, where the rent is low, and the crime is high.
She is looking to change that model and has results to prove that building with equity and community in mind is always better in the long run.
This is how one woman works to even the playing field at two Atlanta apartment properties.
The video below: Meet Marjy Stagmeier | Affordable Atlanta apartment community
The mission: A landlord who wanted to invest in people, not property
When Marjy Stagmeier was young, she was the monopoly champ of Hambrick Elementary School in DeKalb County.
"I told my parents that night at the dinner table that I was going to be landlord when I grew up," she said. "People that owned houses and collected rent got $200 when you passed go."
That dream came true, and Stagmeier passed "Go" many times before she realized the job was more than just building up Boardwalk.
She bought the Summerdale and Springview Apartment complexes, less than a mile from Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, in 2017 -- an area that Georgia ranked as low-performing, with 100% of students coming from low-income families.
Stagmeier said the transformation is seen "when you can take a property like this that was boarded up and blighted and had very high crime, and within two years, you now have children playing on the playground, and families thriving, and kids outperforming their peers at the local elementary school."
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This change starts at home, she said. Stagmeier founded the Star-C afterschool program, a nonprofit that gives kids a free, protected place to go after class.
"Once it's safe, we start the reno and the afterschool program," she explained. "It takes about two years, and in two years, you see the results. Now, we have a safe community for people earning between $30-50,000 a year."
As a landlord now, she doesn't just want to play the game; she wants her communities to win.
"You get to see families thrive. This is 244 units," she said. "We now have 244 families where they want to be here; they want to build this."
However, just like Monopoly, Stagmeier said she cannot play alone.
"Low-income housing is a major need in Atlanta. Can't even say major; it's astronomical," Angie Santy, Vice President of Operations at Star-C, said. "So, we want to make a safe clean environment for people who are trying to do the right thing."
She said the people who live at the apartment complexes play just as big a role in their success as the ownership group.
"I see a lot of opportunity," Santy said. "I am always so happy to come here because it feels like we are making a difference. We can keep people where their families are safe."
Video below | Crime solutions, Part 1 - Airs May 23
Lowering the crime rate: A landlord's plan to lower violence in a community
Safety is the first thing Stagmeier had to tackle; if people didn't feel secure in their homes, they wouldn't let their kids play outside, either.
And at Summerdale and Springview apartments, the Go-to-jail card was coming up a lot, with 433 calls to 911 for violent crimes in 2017.
But in 2021, there were just 18 calls to the emergency line -- most of them nonviolent. That’s a 96% drop.
Stagmeier said she did it in part by asking police to move in.
Atlanta police Officer George Crenshaw, better known as Officer Smiley, moved into the community about five months ago. He spends most of his time off duty mentoring the kids who live there.
"I love the kids, the smiles," Crenshaw said. "This community has so much potential. I know we have a lot of problems, but we can at least start."
The video below: Meet Officer George Crenshaw 'Smiley' | Affordable Atlanta apartment community
Officer Smiley likes where he lives, and property manager Yesenia Cienfuegos said that's intentional.
"As soon as you mention Cleveland Ave, everyone panics," Cienfuegos said. "But I have to say, it's not that bad. Every security measure we have -- APD is 24/7 -- anytime we need something, they're always there."
They also added 50 cameras on-site and have armed security around the clock.
"For us, it's very important because every situation happens so quick, and when we review the camera, we see the details we missed the first time," their chief of security, Alberto Comargo said.
It's a stark contrast to what the property looked like just a few years ago. Now, families feel safer letting their kids outside.
"When you have areas that are really high-crime, the residents can be really disheartened," said Audrea Rease, a partner with Tristar, the investment company Stagmeier owns.
"They may not believe that the landlord is sincere in trying to make positive change. Or they think the landlord is making positive changes just to jack up the rents and throw them out."
Rease said the management group intentionally focused on the safety of the children who live there.
"They were all traumatized," Stagmeier, the landlord, said. "They went from school to apartment and back. They weren't out playing, they weren't riding their bicycles, and that has a long-term impact on children and how they are raised."
According to the Department of Justice, children exposed to that kind of trauma are more likely to deal with substance abuse, anxiety, depression, struggle in school and later commit crimes.
By bringing down the crime rate, she's brought the kids back outside. And the officers on-site aren't there to answer calls -- they're there to go home.
Video below | Crime solutions, Part 2 - Airs May 24
Building the village: A landlord pushes for programs to help the youngest Georgians
When Stagmeier bought the apartment complexes, 68 elementary-aged children lived there, but they didn't play outside.
That's what life looked like for mother Diamond Palmer and her son a few years ago. She said before Stagmeier, it was rough.
"There would be times he would want to go outside," Palmer said. "A good day like this, and I would be like, 'oh no.' If he did go outside, I would have to take him to another playground."
Stagmeier worked with students at Georgia Tech to redesign the layout of the buildings, so there was only one way in and out -- everyone could see who was coming or going.
That protects the playground built in the middle of the property.
Students also can go to Star-C, the nonprofit founded by Stagmeier that provides free childcare for every family who lives here. The program teaches kids to invest back into their community and offers cooking classes, afterschool care, and invites guest speakers.
For resident Michelle Harrison, the program has been "such a great experience."
"It shows me that anybody can overcome," Harrison said. "If you overcome something, you can get something like this. Even if the neighborhood was bad at one point, it's not anymore, not to me."
Rease agreed, saying if communities can just provide a safe, clean place to live, "that can really change the trajectory of generations of families. It can reduce their stress, make their homes happier and healthier. So I understood the impact of improving lives that way."
Star-C's program director, Aleshia Brown, said she has also has seen the transformation. This is now a place they want to raise their family -- a place to believe in.
"If they feel safe where they live, then they're out in the community. And you'll see, they're out, they're engaging each other," Brown explained.
She makes a point to have the children in her program greet everyone in the community. After school, the kids have plenty of time to play, but they also clean up the community and ask neighbors if they need help taking out the trash.
Brown makes sure they're engaged in the community they live in, and residents said it shows.
"The community got better," said Palmer, the resident. "At first, it was gunshots here and there, but now it's much better; you can tell they're out here."
Video below | Crime solutions, Part 3 - Airs May 25
Making community connections: If children were the focus, schools had to be involved
Along with working with local police departments, Stagmeier knew that if she wanted this to work, she also had to get the school systems to buy in.
The two properties she purchased feed directly into Cleveland Avenue Elementary school, so that is when Stagmeier asked Dr. Anyee Payne, the school's principal, for a meeting.
A graduate from Atlanta Public Schools, Payne took the job, knowing 100% of the students come from homes that are defined as low income and that the state ranked the school in the bottom 15%.
Payne knew that there could be apprehension when outside investors buy properties. But, Stagmeier was transparent about her mission, helping them become one of the first STEM-certified elementary schools in the state.
"They were very upfront about what their mission was, which aligned with our vision," Payne said. "Making sure that we have positive outcomes with students. And then they just showed us."
Audiogram below: Meet Principal Dr. Anyee Payne | Affordable Atlanta apartment community
The non-profit, Star-C also works with the school. Payne said it is had become an extension of the school, creating a safe environment for its students.
"There were times where it wasn't safe for our students to walk from our school (to) home," she said. "But they have employed many resources to make sure our students are in a safe and clean environment."
Cleveland Avenue Elementary's test scores still lag, but are improving. Students' attitudes and behavior seem to have shifted, too. State data shows that student discipline dropped from nearly 50 incidents in 2017—to fewer than 10 in 2021.
Dr. Payne said the students who live at the complex have thrived under the new management company and have a newfound sense of normalcy.
"They're very excited to leave school, a loving environment, to go home now to another loving environment," she said.
She said the community is paying off, adding she was proud that a real estate investor took a real stake in her students' lives.
"I think they don't understand that our children are just like any other child," Dr. Payne said. "They have feelings, they love to learn, they're highly engaged, they have high potential. So, we just have to tap into what motivates them."
Video below | Crime solutions, Part 4 - Airs May 26
Keeping the mission moving and affordable: Teaching other communities
Revitalizing neighborhoods and building safe communities should be common sense; Stagmeier does not intend to give up on making the two sides of the Monopoly board fairer.
And she doesn't mind playing the long game.
"We got a lot of pushback when we first started," Stagmeier said. "I like to say there's community investors and commodity investors. We like community investors."
They had to convince investors to commit $11 million to buy a blighted and crime-ridden apartment complex—knowing they could make more money elsewhere.
"For every percentage interest that we would have to give to our investors, we have to raise our rent $60 to $70," she said. "So, if our investors said they want a 10% return, we would have to raise our rents $500 a month, just to pay those investors."
They keep the rent around $875 a month for their townhomes, meaning their investors get back around 2% profit.
As the apartment complexes continue to thrive, Stagmeier said she wants to show other people how to recreate what she's done in their neighborhoods.
"Our goal here is not to own all the apartments," she said. "Our goal is to have other landlords embrace the model and to bring that to their communities."
They started a monthly breakfast to help teach landlords across America how to recreate this model in their communities. An Alabama mayor plans to come to see her work in action.
As to the impact the of the model:
"Oh, I am going to heaven. That's my goal; I want to get to heaven," Stagmeier said. "Because you can't take all of this with you. But you would like to leave some sort of small legacy behind."
The community is now full, and there's a waitlist to get in.
Stagmeier is publishing a book about the experience of turning the communities around.
It's called "Blighted," and it's coming out in early September.
Video below | Crime solutions, Part 5 - Airs May 27
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