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Residents of Warrendale, one of Detroit's largest neighborhoods, say the community's journey through the years has mirrored the city's: It was once great before falling on hard times, and is now inching its way back up, although there's still a long way to go.

The neighborhood on the city's southwestern border was once known as a "copper canyon" — a safe middle-class community that bucked Detroit's crime trends in large part because it was heavily populated by police officers who were required to live in the city.

When the state Legislature in 1999 banned residency requirements for municipal employees, hundreds of Detroit police officers and their families left Warrendale for the suburbs — and when the cops moved out, criminals and blight moved in.

In recent years, however, residents and city officials say the neighborhood, which borders Dearborn to the south and Dearborn Heights to the west, is moving back toward prosperity. Property values have soared. City officials say hundreds of abandoned structures have been demolished in the past five years.

"When the police lived here, it was a more stable neighborhood," said David Malhalab, a lifelong Warrendale resident who retired from the Detroit police force in 2005 after a 23-year career. "But that was a bygone era. Things went way down after the police moved out, but we're now starting to see things get better."

Crime is still a problem, though. Since Jan. 1, 2018, there have been 11 homicides in Warrendale — tied with the Greenfield/Grand River neighborhood for the city's most killings during that period. However, as of Thursday, just three homicides had occurred this year in Warrendale, police statistics show.

This year, some crimes in Warrendale are down, while others are up over the same period in 2018, according to police stats.

From Jan. 1 to May 16, 2019, assaults are up from 130 to 151 during the same period last year; sexual assaults increased from 4 to 13; and burglaries are up from 83 to 92. Robberies in the neighborhood dropped from 21 to 13 during that time frame; aggravated assaults fell from 77 to 45; and larcenies plunged from 92 to 42, police statistics show.

From December 2016 — the earliest date available on the city's data portal — to December 2017, there were 315 aggravated assaults in Warrendale. The following year, aggravated assaults had dropped to 265.

Cmdr. Arnold Williams, head of the 6th Precinct, where Warrendale is located, said the police-community relationship is strong.

"The good thing about our communities, including Warrendale, is they are very vocal," Williams said. "They're very open about talking about the issues that affect them, and that helps us address those issues.

"There are also a number of radio patrols in the Warrendale area, which also helps us a great deal," Williams said.

Malhalab, whose grandfather built his home in the early 1920s, said the reduction in vacant homes has helped curb crime.

"The number of abandoned houses increased as police officers and others moved out of the city; drug dealers and squatters moved in, and we saw the decline," Malhalab said. "We used to have a horrible time during Devil's Night — too many vacant properties that were easy targets for arsonists. 

"The city has tore down a lot of abandoned houses around my place in the past few years," Malhalab said.

Arthur Jemison, chief of services and infrastructure for Mayor Mike Duggan's office, said since 2014 the city has demolished 827 abandoned structures in Warrendale, and sold 311 vacant structures in the neighborhood to the Detroit Land Bank Authority to be fixed up and occupied.

"The first step was to stabilize this neighborhood; the second step is to get it to grow," Jemison said. "Today, in terms of housing value, there's been a 190% increase since 2014. The demolitions have changed the way the community looks, and (home buyers) are giving the area a second look."

The average Multiple Listing Service sale price of homes in Warrendale increased from $9,597.75 in 2014 to $27,866.95 in 2018, city officials said.

Hasan Harb, 36, who opened the Pizza & Fish Express restaurant on Evergreen eight years ago, says he's seen a marked improvement in the neighborhood.

"Going back 20 years, my customers tell me this was a really nice neighborhood; they say it was like a suburb," Harb said. "By the time I opened (the restaurant), it was really terrible, with a lot of empty houses and crime. Now I feel much safer."

Warrendale is one of the city's Strategic Neighborhood Fund areas, which uses taxpayer money and donations from corporations and philanthropic groups to fund neighborhood improvements.

As part of that program, nine teenagers from Warrendale and the neighboring Cody Rouge community spent 10 weeks interviewing city officials and residents before presenting a plan to improve the two communities.

"Warrendale and Cody Rouge are the top two neighborhoods in the city in terms of density of child population," Jemison said. "So the idea was to make sure the neighborhood plan was rooted in what young people say they need.

"Those plans will result in streetscape and park improvements, and a mixed-income residential building in the commercial district," Jemison said.

Mona Ali, District 7 manager for the city's Department of Neighborhoods, who grew up in Warrendale, said there's been a recent influx of Iraqi and Syrian refugees into the community.

"That's been going OK," she said. "The residents have been accepting of it, although we still need more culturally sensitive schools. A lot of refugee families don't have options at their fingertips."

When asked about crime, Ali said: "From talking to the residents, the sense is there's been an obvious improvement. There are always going to be some blocks that are worse than others, and we still have to alleviate some of the issues people may be having. We're working with residents to address the crime hot spots."

While the online Detroit Crime Map shows violent crime this year has been evenly distributed throughout Warrendale, there are areas where no violent crimes have been committed, including an 11-block stretch of Belton Avenue from Piedmont to Southfield in the neighborhood's northern area.

Malhalab said he was the victim of burglars 14 years ago.

"I had two break-ins right after I retired in 2005," Malhalab said. "I put an alarm on my house, and haven't had any trouble since."

Harb, who said he lost money at first when he opened his restaurant, believes his business — and the community around it — are much better than they once were.

"I’m not going to say it’s good, but it’s improving," he said. "We’ve been through the worst, I think."

ghunter@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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