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Makeover opens door to North Greenwood home

Officials say all this home at 1107 Blanche B. Littlejohn Trail in North Greenwood needs is a loving family. Upgrades to the house, once a hub of drug activity, were unveiled Tuesday.

DEMORRIS A LEE | Times

Officials say all this home at 1107 Blanche B. Littlejohn Trail in North Greenwood needs is a loving family. Upgrades to the house, once a hub of drug activity, were unveiled Tuesday.

CLEARWATER — The small house at 1107 Blanche B. Littlejohn Trail has a new life.

Once a two-bedroom crack house and a place where car- jackings and robberies originated, the North Greenwood abode has undergone a makeover, thanks to a coalition of law enforcement agencies and Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services.

The upgraded house just off the Pinellas Trail was unveiled Tuesday. Now, there are three bedrooms, two baths, new carpet, a tile floor in the kitchen and a manicured front yard. Community leaders say now all it needs is a loving family.

"This is a true miracle and an example at how red tape can be cut and how things can happen," said Sid Klein, Clearwater's police chief.

"In the end, literally now stands a home ready for a family."

The house had been a focal point for crime. During one three-year period, police were called to the house 3,000 times. The home's residents even lured neighborhood children into the drug-dealing world, police said.

But on May 6, 2004, police shut down the house for good, seizing 175 pieces of crack cocaine, an assault rifle and another gun.

The homeowner at the time, Mary Starker Cobb, received five years' probation on charges of selling crack cocaine. Erick Filer, the suspected ringleader, received 10 years in prison, five of them suspended.

The federal government took ownership of the house through forfeiture proceedings.

But instead of selling the property and divvying up the proceeds with the law enforcement agencies involved, the house was donated to Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit that helps provide affordable housing in the county.

The transaction, which took several years to complete, involved the efforts of Clearwater police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Klein said the house is the first federal property transfer in Clearwater.

"We felt this was an opportunity," said Steve Cole, of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida.

Cole said instead of selling the property at auction with the potential of having another bad homeowner, it was decided to work with Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, a NeighborWorks America affiliate.

"Hopefully, a nice family will arrive in here," Cole said.

Now that the $72,000 facelift is complete, an appraiser will set a value for the home and it will be put on the market.

Tuesday, the house that is on the street named after Blanche B. Littlejohn, a North Greenwood community leader and the 1923 co-founder of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, stood proud as dignitaries looked it over.

The illegal carport was converted into a master bedroom with a bath. That move added 305 square feet to the once 750-square-foot ranch home. The spotless beige carpet welcomed visitors. In the back yard, oranges and grapefruit were ripening for a youngster's picking.

"It's the partnership that I'm most proud of," said Isay Gulley, president of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services. "We all came together and that's what made it happen."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or 445-4174.

Makeover opens door to North Greenwood home 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 8:15pm]
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