GRIFFITH | Say the words The Mansards and for many, a host of images of violent crime and low-income housing come to mind.
But Griffith officials and executives from The Mansards, the region's largest privately owned apartment complex, say they are working together to change the perceptions and the reality.
The population of The Mansards — 3,000 people — represents 17 percent of all Griffith residents, according to latest U.S. Census data.
Keeping that 90-acre corner of town adjacent to Ridge Road between Argobast Avenue and Colfax Street safe is key to the safety of all Griffith residents, Police Chief Gregory Mance said.
"It's definitely an identifiable issue as far as the amount of incidents we have in that corridor," Mance said. "However, they have made significant steps to improve their property."
Griffith Police Department crime statistics show the efforts are working.
From 2011 to 2012, violent and property crimes at The Mansards decreased 19 percent.
Those same statistics show 16 percent of all violent and property crimes in the town occur in The Mansards, demonstrating a crime rate no higher than the rest of Griffith.
Statistics for 2013 through May 1 show this year is on pace for the same crime rate there.
Eye on crime
From 2009 through 2012, violent crime at The Mansards included a fatal drug-related shooting and high-speed chase in broad daylight, a shooting involving teens and a deadly throat slashing.
While the crimes happened at the apartment complex, police said the offenders did not live there.
The people they were visiting were evicted and given 24 hours to leave, which is Mansards policy according to Linda Jacknow, senior vice president for Levalon Properties, owners of the complex.
Griffith police are partnering with the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence at Indiana University Northwest in an effort to map crime and adjust patrols accordingly, Mance said.
That work is intended to complement the efforts of the Violence Reduction Initiative Task Force, which partners officers from Griffith, Highland and Munster for efforts in the Ridge Road corridor, including The Mansards.
Private security also assists at the complex, locking all gates except one at a manned gatehouse from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. The gatehouse officer also tracks license plates for visitors.
For management at The Mansards, it is all about preventing problems.
Jacknow said all potential renters are screened with criminal background checks.
"If they've had a felony, they don't live here," Jacknow said.
Only 3.2 percent of residents receive public assistance of any type, Jacknow said.
"There was a time when people said, 'Oh, it's all Section 8,'" Jacknow said. "We never even qualified for Section 8 because our rent is too high."
In a few cases, Mansards staff works with the Hammond Housing Authority and Northwest Indiana Community Action Coalition.
"Everyone who comes in is referred to us by an agency, but they all come in through the exact same criteria," Jacknow said. "It's not like they get a pass."
One building south of Ridge Road was hit in June 2012 by a fire that displaced 23 residents. The fire remains under investigation, but Jacknow said it started with fireworks set off in a residential area off Mansards property, not by a resident.
Jacknow hopes to reopen the remodeled building June 1.
'Build a community'
Jacknow said what many don't know is how active The Mansards is in the region.
"Our main goal right now is to build a community," Jacknow said.
The complex partners with Purdue University Calumet for the use of an old greenhouse on the property previously used to grow landscaping plants for the complex. Biology professors and students use the greenhouse for research on plants native to the dunes.
"They didn't think they could do it this year because of cutbacks and we told them it's yours, just take it," Jacknow said.
The Mansards is one of the main sponsors of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and provides four apartments for coaches free of charge, Jacknow said.
The Mansards' management is also negotiating a partnership with the Griffith Family YMCA for use of the indoor pool at the apartment complex for swim classes and water aerobics for seniors.
Jacknow said an employee recently visited all of the Veterans Affairs clinics from Chicago to Crown Point in an effort to provide affordable housing at reduced rates to returning troops.
"We want to partner with them so they know they can get housing and that if they need counseling or services, they can be close to the VA," Jacknow said.
The complex features a K-9 park developed in 2010 when management learned local police were incurring time and expense to travel to Chicago's northwest suburbs for training.
Residents such as LaShawna Richards also use the facility to train their dogs.
Richards has lived at The Mansards with her husband and two children for three years. She is in the U.S. Marine Corps. and her husband is in the U.S. Navy.
"We could have lived on base at Great Lakes, but we wanted to be here," she said.
"When I tell people I live here, sometimes they say, 'Ooh, that's bad,' but some say they used to live here and it's nice. I've never had any problems."