Prostitution was rampant in the area a year ago. Solicitors commandeered a park bench on Blue Hill Avenue, beckoning passersby. Illegal trysts occurred in a vacant lot nearby, on Woodcliff Street, to the dismay of residents.
Neighbors complained incessantly. The city took notice.
The bench was removed. And the newly created Blue Hill Avenue Neighborhood Response Team asked the owner of the vacant lot, Vargas DaSilveira, to clear overgrowth and debris, secure the space with a fence, and expedite development plans for the Roxbury site, which he bought about two years ago. Three multifamily buildings now sit there. DaSilveira’s construction team is putting final touches on the nine units, which have been sold to first-time home buyers, who are scheduled to move in by September.
“Much better now,’’ said Ana Pires, 54, who has lived next door for 22 years. “Last year, my husband was coming home, and as he was about to open the fence, a prostitute grabbed his wallet out of his back pocket, and when he turned around, she cut his face with a knife and ran.”
The lot, which was also a haven for drug activity, was one of 150 addresses along the Blue Hill Avenue corridor that the response team, part of an initiative from Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office, visited in the past year. Complaints from residents varied, from prostitution and drug use to rat infestation and chronic after-hours partying.
The mission of the response team, along with similar campaigns in the Bowdoin-Geneva and Mattapan-North Dorchester neighborhoods, is to improve the quality of life.
As a result of 150 visits by the Blue Hill Avenue team, 50 citations were issued by the Inspectional Services Department. More violations are expected as the team embarks on its second year, said Darryl T. Smith, the department’s assistant commissioner of constituent services and chairman of the Blue Hill Avenue Neighborhood Response Team.
Most of the citations allowed property owners time to correct the violations without penalty, but numerous punitive fines were also issued. Smith said he was unsure of the exact dollar amount, but estimated it was in the thousands of dollars.
The city has worked closely with landlords. Some homes have been condemned, while others have been renovated, and lots have been cleared and secured.
“It has been a challenge, and it will continue to be a challenge . . . and we are not mistaken that a whole lot of work remains to be done,’’ said Smith, framed by the new units on Woodcliff.
The response team conducts walks every other week through neighborhoods in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, wielding a list of troublesome properties.
Some nights, the team cannot visit all the addresses on its list because residents stop them to complain about additional problem spots, said Mike Kozu of Project RIGHT, based at 320 Blue Hill Ave., in Grove Hall. The list of addresses grows constantly.
Boston police Captain John Davin said the team’s focus on quality-of-life problems creates an environment less susceptible to crime.
“From the enforcement end of things, we benefit greatly by the team and the residents directing us on where our resources need to go, and we also benefit greatly by the reduction in crime as we’ve seen around the Blue Hill Avenue corridor,’’ he said.
Smith and others on the team acknowledged the need to offer outreach programs for those engaging in prostitution, drug use, and other illicit activities, so that they get the help they need rather than migrating to another neighborhood. The programs range from job training to drug rehabilitation to GED.
“We want to transfer them from the work industry they’re in today to the real work industry,” he said.
Kattie Portis, the mayor’s drug policy adviser, said she approaches each person with family in mind. “The bottom line is,” she said, “we have to extend services to the family, because it is an issue that affects a whole family.’’
Last August, the team moved in on a light-brown, two-story stucco building at 100 Mount Pleasant Ave., in Roxbury. They condemned the property, citing a host of electrical, fire, and structural hazards. In shuttering it, they also closed a reputed brothel, a place where half-naked women were seen running from the house, chasing men and demanding payment.
Residents such as Kathy Griswald, who lives across the street, called City Hall and raised their concerns in neighborhood meetings. Last year, she and several other residents attended a meeting at the Inspectional Services Department to seek a solution.
A month later, Inspectional Services seized another troublesome building, a once-majestic three-decker at 55 Quincy St., in Dorchester, that descended into squalor after foreclosure and became a drug den and host to prostitution.
Earlier this month, city inspectors, with Boston police, raided a third-floor apartment at 207 Woodrow Ave., in Dorchester, a source of repeated neighbor complaints. The apartment allegedly hosted an after-hours restaurant and parties, drawing heavy traffic into the early-morning hours. The residents were issued a summons to appear in Dorchester District Court to answer a charge of keeping a disorderly house.
Yvette Jones, 56, who lives on Woodcliff Street, said the quality of life in her neighborhood has improved. It’s her duty, she said, to question suspicious activity and maintain a telephone bank with residents’ numbers to alert them to trouble, or simply to organize meetings.
“It takes residents stepping up to the plate,” she said. “I tell you, I must have called the city a hundred times, but I wasn’t going to stop until something was done.”