Every dime paid in rent goes right back into the joint.

That’s practically unheard of, especially when the place is in such bad shape. 

And there’s no polite way of putting it: The place was a dump.

Sex offenders and drug dealers occupied plenty of the rundown units at Woodland Apartments — just north and west of the intersection of Kimberly Road and Division Street in Davenport.

It got so bad that people living in a nearby house twice found discarded guns in their yard. And the cops were dispatched as routinely as daylight.

Meanwhile, way off in California, Dawn Steinhauser’s personal life was being turned sideways. She needed a fresh start and decided the place to find it was back home in the Quad-Cities.

 After graduating from Riverdale High School in Port Byron, Ill., she studied elementary education and interior design on a volleyball scholarship at Mississippi State University and then moved west.

She amassed a unique set of skills to bring home — construction management and design — and began  looking for a job that would suit her. She found an ad for a manager at Woodland Apartments last fall and clicked with the out-of-state owner.

The place hasn’t been the same since.

At 30 years old and the mother of two boys, Steinhauser made a plan. But it would take money.

“Occupancy was really low, and my first job was to get the units rented,” she said Monday. “We spent the entire winter making interior updates and repairs, so we could move people in.

“The owner took out a loan on his own house to make interior improvements here. Now, every month, I spend every penny that comes in for rent. I found people who know how to do things right, and I brought them in, along with using some of the skills of our tenants.”

Rotted carpet was pulled out and replaced with hardwood. The laundry rooms in the two buildings that make up 120 apartment units were gutted, and new washers and dryers were added. Appliances and air-conditioners were replaced, and gallons of paint were poured into the place.

When the weather warmed, the maintenance crew went to work staining decks and painting doors, shutters and siding.

But Steinhauser wanted more than a good-looking apartment building. She wanted the people who live there to have their own community. She started by listening to everything Davenport Police Officer Scott Fuller, of the NETS program (Neighborhoods Energized to Succeed), had to say.

“I knew I had to get rid of the drugs and some of the tenants with some other issues, but I didn’t know how to do that,” she said. “I look at Scott Fuller as a father figure. I have his cell phone number on my speed dial. He’s been my mentor.”

Fuller said Monday that police couldn’t have helped whip Woodland into shape without Steinhauser’s commitment to it. Slumlords and unkempt properties can be a serious nuisance to neighbors and a dangerous attraction for the criminal element. But there’s little police can do about it if the property owners don’t care.

“You have to find a good manager who is willing to rule with an iron fist and who cares about the people,” he said. “The whole objective here is to change behavior. I can take people to jail all day, but having someone care about the safety and condition of the neighborhood is what makes change.”

With the help of the cops, her maintenance crew, 8th Ward Alderman Mike Matson and a handful of eager tenants, Woodland is becoming more than a decent place to live.

 Dianna Sneath may know best. She lived at Woodland before, but she moved out when things began going bad.

“There were a lot of problems, and I became very uncomfortable here,” she said. “I moved back when I saw what was happening.”

On Monday afternoon, Sneath was pulling weeds in one of several community gardens that were planted at the complex this spring. Steinhauser said the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, melon, herbs and more were planted to give the tenants something to help take care of while helping them save on groceries.

When the exterior work is finished on the two buildings, the crew will go to work on resealing and re-striping the parking lot. They plan to put a basketball court in the overflow lot, install playground equipment in one of the building’s courtyards and a gazebo in the other.

An electrician was working Monday on a new community room that will be used for the monthly Neighborhood Watch meetings and for tenants to use for birthday parties and get-togethers.

The improvements already are boosting morale, maintenance workers said, pointing to the new flower pots hanging outside a half-dozen apartments.

“This fall and winter we’ll do even more interior improvements, replacing more appliances and other updates,” Steinhauser said. “Our goal is to provide a great place to live at a reasonable price, surrounded by great tenants.”

What started as one woman looking for a job and a good place to raise her kids has changed the lives of dozens of apartment dwellers and their neighbors, while making life safer, cleaner and more promising for many children who have not known community.

She didn’t do it alone, but Steinhauser got it started, and she’s dead-set on getting it finished. Her modesty about what she has accomplished is outshone only by her ambition to do more.

“We’re getting it done, little by little,” she said. “But we have a long way to go. Believe me, these people are worth it.”

 

Contact Barb Ickes at (563) 383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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