Once prestigious neighborhood has gone downhill in recent years

Published 1:42 am Sunday, June 27, 2010

NATCHEZ — Roselawn subdivision followed a pattern similar to many neighborhoods in Natchez following the addition of industrial plants in the mid-1900s. It is what has happened since then that has residents, officials and law enforcement worried.

From June 17, 2009, to June 17, 2010, Natchez Police Department officers filed 306 reports from crimes on the seven Roselawn streets.

Reports ran the gamut from 75 reports of loud noise to seven reports of shots fired. Forty disturbances, 25 domestic violence calls and 21 house burglaries brought officers to the neighborhood.

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Mayor Jake Middleton, who served as the long-time alderman whose ward included the subdivision, said what has happened to the subdivision is an unfortunate side effect of a city’s growing pains.

As a city expands, and new neighborhoods develop, older neighborhoods, such as the Roselawn subdivision, become more available, he said.

In the case of the Roselawn subdivision, as many of the houses became available, they were purchased or inherited by owners seeking to rent the properties out, Middleton said.

“You have (property owners) who buy who don’t care what the place looks like because they don’t charge a lot, and they don’t care who they rent it to,” Middleton said. “And I think that is where we have had problems.

“We, as a city, need to pay attention to who owns them and start putting more responsibility on the land owner.”

Responsibility is exactly what county Supervisor Henry Watts hopes to see in Roselawn soon, but he doesn’t think the task is just up to the city.

Watts started talking about troubles in Roselawn in April, and he’s been making sure the issue stays top of mind since then.

For Watts, it’s personal.

“I grew up in the area,” Watts said. “My mother was 86 and lived on Little Street in Roselawn.”

Watts said as a new population of renters moved in the conditions of the neighborhood decreased along with the property values, and his mother was left with a house she couldn’t sell.

“So my mother had to go into a nursing home,” Watts said. “Literally, because of the neighborhood and the folks living there, we couldn’t sell her house.

“She literally lost every nickel of equity in that house.”

And now, Watts owns rental property in the area himself, which he is seeking to sell to a family, but he currently feels no family would buy the home until a change is made.

The Roselawn subdivision consists of Roselawn Drive, North and South Circle, Miller Avenue, Itasca Drive, Marquette Avenue and Little Street.

Forcing change

The city, county and law enforcement will all likely have to play a role if Roselawn is to become a quaint neighborhood again, but ultimately the homeowners and renters who take pride in the neighborhood will have to take control, Watts said.

“When the change happens, it is going to be more so from the people,” Watts said.

Watts, who has maintained contact with the local law enforcement agencies to get a larger police presence in the area, said he was in the early steps of starting a neighborhood watch and was planning to make sure this neighborhood watch has a good job description.

“I’m not saying that people will have shifts every hour, but the thugs have got to know that this neighborhood watch is literally turning in tag numbers and watching you walk down the street with those attack dogs,” Watts said. “Most of the work can be done by citizens who want to stand up and discourage the drugs.

“They just have to not be fearful.”

One of the area’s renters, Vicki Miles, said she has noticed a difference since Watts started his project.

“Visibly, it has changed. There is less activity on the corner, and it is quieter,” Miles said.

Miles, and a few other area residents, said if a neighborhood watch got started that it would help.

“They would have to make sure it was done right to get through to people,” Miles said. “People here are kind of cliquish. You’d have to get the right people on board with it before the majority would be open to hearing it.”

Watts said he hopes to have the neighborhood watch organized in the upcoming weeks.

And reducing crime in the subdivision will also require getting drugs out of the neighborhood, Metro Narcotics Commander David Lindsey said.

Lindsey said there were dealers in the subdivision, and agents have several persons of interests.

“Every week we are doing something in the Roselawn area,” Lindsey said. “Obviously we work in other places too, but Roselawn is one of our main concerns, due to the fact that residents want it cleaned up.”

Lindsey said the best way to clean the area up is to report suspicious activity.

Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins agreed with Watts and Middleton, saying the high number of renters in the area has led to the problems.

Mullins also said the problem with the neighborhood is that the landlords are not requiring the property to be kept up.

“All the quality of life issues affect the crime in neighborhood,” Mullins said.

Criminals typically are not going to stay in neighborhoods that are well kept.

“If you have dilapidated and not cared for homes in a neighborhood, the criminals feel safer,” Mullins said. “The criminal element does not want to be in a neighborhood where it looks like people care about the community.

“They won’t stay in a community where people are turning them in.”

Natchez Code Enforcement Officer Anita Smith said the Roselawn subdivision stays on her radar year round.

“Right now, there are grass and weed problems, abandoned vehicles and property maintenance violations,” Smith said.

But despite her efforts the problems linger and law-abiding residents are continuing to exit the area.

An elderly resident, who prefers to remain anonymous for her own safety reasons, said she lived in Roselawn for 29 years before moving in 1997 because she no longer felt safe.

She moved to Roselawn in 1968 due to the neighborhood’s proximity to schools. However, by the mid-1990s, most of the familiar faces she knew had moved away and the neighborhood conditions began to decline.