Journal of Housing & Community Development

Protecting a Community Together

June 12, 2020

The Houston Housing Authority wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Community Development for collaborating with local partners to implement a viable crime prevention strategy called “See Something, Say Something.” Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

The Houston Housing Authority’s (HHA) public housing communities had to contend with frequent criminal activity, including burglaries, thefts, physical altercations, vandalism, drug possessions, and more. Unorganized efforts between key local partners (law enforcement, HHA, their residents and management) resulted in little to no improvements. The defunding of HUD’s Public Housing Drug Elimination Program (PHDEP) did not improve matters. 

In 2017, HHA implemented the “See Something, Say Something” program. Based on resurrected traditional crime prevention strategies related to community policing and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), the program debuted in January 2017 to improve safety for approximately 2,557 families residing at 14 public housing communities. Public and private partnerships between the HHA, Resident Councils, management, Houston’s Police Department, Harris County’s Constables and the Houston Apartment Association allowed key stakeholders to organize local efforts to reduce crime through improvement in physical design and coordination of resources. The HHA’s estimated cost to fund “See Something/Say Something” is approximately $1.8 million annually, which supports a full-time staff Director of Security, CPTED physical improvements to deter crime, safety training, additional patrols provided by the Constables, safety awareness/educational material for residents, monthly safety meetings and more. 

HHA served as the catalyst in developing, implementing, and coordinating the program and is the primary convener for engaging, funding, assessing and monitoring the “See Something, Say Something” initiative. The contributions received from specific partners include: 

  • HHA provided funding for a dedicated staff person to manage the program which included coordinating on-site patrols, guiding the installation of physical enhancements (lights, fencing, landscaping, access gates), hosting safety meetings, conducting trainings, collecting/tracking statistics and consulting management on acquiring Blue Star designation;
  • The Houston Police Department (HPD) provided baseline patrols, maintained and issued reports, hosts complimentary crime prevention trainings, issued citations, conducted crime prevention site inspections, facilitated trainings and evaluated sites to issue Blue Star designations;
  • The Harris County Constables served as an HHA contractor to provide additional/enhanced patrols, issued citations, implemented computing policing strategies and attended community meetings; 
  • Management served as an HHA contractor for managing site operations inclusive of leasing, maintenance, CPTED, assigning staff to attend trainings, hosted community meetings and acquired Blue Star designations. 
  • Residents offered natural surveillance and sensitive information to other local police, hosted safety meetings to increase awareness and solicit leaders to serve as points of contact at various sites. 

The team actively shared data and information, resulting in the implementation of appropriate actions and/or re-adjustments. HHA also implemented physical design modifications that deterred criminal activities, including the installation and repairing of exterior lighting, professional design landscaping and scrubs, signage, functioning access gates and general maintenance to properly secure vacant units.

The open communication and consistent collaboration between HHA, residents, and community partners had a positive impact in deterring crime. Since the implementation of the program, on-site arrests, seizure of narcotics and completed police reports have all decreased. Prior to program’s implementation, an average of 365 arrests were recorded, which decreased to 168 arrests.

 As a result, three of the 14 sites (15 percent) were awarded Blue Star designations in 2018. HHA anticipates that three sites will receive the designation, every year. Overall, the HHA’s “See Something, Say Something” program, is a successful collaboration that utilizes existing resources to ensure greater safety within their public housing communities. 

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