Crestview to replace houses in high-crime area with 'safe, affordable' homes

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — With the goal of creating space for safe, affordable housing, city officials hope to soon see old, rickety houses in a high-crime part of town demolished and cleared away.

The Crestview City Council in March unanimously approved paying a little more than $106,000 to local businessman Jay Woodbury for the purchase of eight residential lots.

Thelma Hawthorne sits on the porch of her home on West Bowers Avenue in Crestview on Thursday. Hawthorne's home stands on one of eight properties purchased by the city of Crestview, which plans to revitalize the sites with new affordable housing. Hawthorne said she's been living there with her daughter for about seven months and pays $300 a month for rent.

Four of the parcels are vacant lots on North Savage Street, and four contain a total of six houses, all of which will be razed, on West Bowers and West Field avenues.

“We’ve had a very high call volume (for police assistance) within this Field-Bowers’ area,” City Manager Tim Bolduc said recently. “So it’s taking something that’s currently being used that way and then turning it into something that is legitimate and affordable housing. We can make sure that we provide housing for our citizens, but that we’re doing it in a way where it’s safe for them to live in.”

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Bolduc said the city likely will partner with the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity in Okaloosa County to provide new, affordable housing on the newly purchased lots.

According to city information, from January 2016 to March of this year, there were 260 police calls for service to address various criminal activities in a roughly two-block range that includes the houses up for demolition. Overall, the area has about 25 homes.

The calls for service were either officer-initiated or involved officers responding to complaints, Crestview Police Maj. Andrew Schneider said.

“It’s an area of very high drug usage,” said Bolduc, who added that besides numerous narcotics violations, police have gone there to investigate crimes such as stabbings, overdoses, burglaries, rapes and a homicide during the five-year period.

This house on West Bowers Avenue in Crestview is one of eight properties purchased by the city of Crestview, which plans to revitalize the sites with new affordable housing.

The homicide occurred on Aug. 25, 2020, when Jerry Jerome Aaron Sr., 46, was shot and killed in the area of 249 W. Bowers Ave., adjacent to some of the city’s newly purchased lots.

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Police continue to seek public assistance in solving the homicide. Anyone with information is asked to call Crestview Police at 850-682-2055 or Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers at 850-863-TIPS (8477).

Besides being in a high-crime area, Bolduc said he is concerned that the houses up for demolition are not safe to occupy.

“One of the houses is full of squatters,” Bolduc said. “The others have tenants, but most of them do not have leases and haven’t been paying rent, and we will be providing them notice that we intend to tear (the structures) down. They will have to relocate.”

Except for one resident who has a lease until July and will be allowed to stay until then, the tenants were officially notified on Thursday, April 8 that they have 30 days to vacate.

“We want to get (the structures) knocked down as soon as the tenants are relocated,” Bolduc said

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This house on West Bowers Avenue in Crestview stands on one of eight properties purchased by the city of Crestview, which plans to revitalize the sites with new affordable housing.

Unlike several older houses nearby, the existing Habitat for Humanity houses in the West Bowers/Field area are in very good shape and represent pride of ownership, Bolduc said.

Crestview officials hope that type of pride spreads when the proposed affordable housing units get built, City Councilman Shannon Hayes said recently.

Hayes represents Precinct 2, which includes the lots the city just purchased. He has served on the council since 2013.

“I think it’s a great idea what the city is trying to accomplish,” Hayes said. “With these (recently purchased) properties, we will provide safe, affordable housing. I haven’t really heard from the citizens, but we’re aware that it’s a higher-crime area. And with the new housing over there it would improve the neighborhood, and (many current) residents would follow suit and improve their properties.”

The houses that will be demolished are unsuitable dwellings, he said.

“The question that needs to be asked is: Would I want my mother or my wife or daughter to live in a place that’s not suitable to live in?” he said. “Once you eliminate some of the properties that are not really livable, the people (causing problems) won’t be hanging around those areas.”