Forrest Stuart MacCormack

Abraham Maslow had a point. With his hierarchy of needs, he theorized that once our basic physiological needs are met, we need to feel safe. Before family and friendship and a sense of community, we yearn for a predictable world—and home—in which injustice and fear do not exist. Unfortunately, that basic need for safety and security is not fulfilled for the residents of many apartment buildings in this country. And not just in Class C and D properties, but among Class A and B communities as well. Why? Because crime seems to be concentrated around high-density apartments.

These days, that’s a problem. Cash-strapped apartment owners, many of whom are facing financial distress, have been slowly cutting back on basic precautions, upkeep, and maintenance that help keep properties safe. And, as a result, crime at distressed properties seems to be increasing unchecked. Now, some cities and counties are stepping in, mandating that these owners make the safety of their residents a priority.

It’s a fascinating nexus—and one worth exploring. This month, we do just that. “Crack Down,” which starts on page 34, is the first in a three-part series of articles about crime in the multifamily industry. In this piece, senior editor Les Shaver conducts exclusive research that proves a high correlation between financially-distressed properties and crime levels.

Interestingly, one element from Les’ article that stays with me is also a finding you can easily investigate for yourself: He notes that if you type the word “apartment” into a Google News search, you’ll be bombarded with the words “murder” and “slain” and “arrested.” Give it a try. I did. The results are surprising—and a little sobering.

Yet this crime phenomenon is something that no one in the industry wants to talk about. Some fear a backlash from financial partners. Others worry about the legal liability issues. But the fact of the matter is that the problems exist and need to be addressed.

So what’s the solution to this crime riddle? Several of the people we spoke to say that it’s a case-by-case, property-by-property, loan-by-loan dilemma. I beg to differ. Currently, the FBI does not track residential crimes on a holistic basis across the country. And the data the agency does have is not segmented by the location of the crime, so there’s no way to gauge just how problematic on-site multifamily crime is on a national scale. But in order to get to a point where we can focus on solving these problems, more work needs to be done with local municipalities and law enforcement to keep on-site employees and apartment residents safe.

After all, it’s a basic human need.