Good Neighbor Claudia Deprez: Miraculous Transformation

“The wonderful thing is that what we’ve accomplished has been in partnership with the city, and that’s the way it should be in a healthy community.”

From a blighted combat zone favored by drug dealers and prostitutes, an area of some 10,000 residents on the north side of West Palm Beach, Fla., has been transformed into a community whose residents are proud of their neighborhoods. And it’s all thanks to a woman they call “an itty-bitty bundle of dynamite.”

Her name is Claudia Deprez, a broker with Illustrated Properties Real Estate Inc. in West Palm Beach.

“Claudia may be tiny, but she packs a big punch,” says Iangelic Batista, president of the Northwood Estates Neighborhood Association, one of the Northend community groups. “She has an amazing ability to get public officials to follow through on their promises.”

Deprez, who has been a real estate professional for 29 years, is president and founder of the Northend Coalition of Neighborhoods, an organization that represents 10 neighborhoods of about 3,900 homes. NCON was formed at a meeting of concerned citizens Deprez held in her living room in 2001 after a drive-by shooting wounded a 4-year-old girl who was waiting for an ice cream truck.

Calling herself a “Chihuahua in a world of Rottweilers,” the diminutive Deprez urged the community to go on the offensive. “We decided letter-writing alone wouldn’t get the city’s attention,” says Deprez, “so we threatened to sue unless something was done about the drug dealing that was going on.”

Deprez and others from NCON made lists of properties where suspected drug dealing and prostitution were taking place. They meet monthly with the mayor, the police, and building department officials. Police patrols have been stepped up dramatically, and NCON keeps close watch on the court to see that repeat offenders do jail time. As a result, the crime rate has plummeted.

“People are feeling safe again,” says Batista, who helped organize weekly neighborhood walks that even brought out the mayor. “When he started walking with us, people knew we had the city on our side,” she says.

NCON also began monitoring trash pickups and pressing the city to enforce building code violations. Today, more than 65 abandoned properties have been leveled, hundreds of buildings have been rehabbed, new rental properties have been developed, and a new city park has been created.

To help the city meet the added expense of making improvements, NCON keeps tabs on the owners of rental properties to ensure they’re not claiming homestead exemptions for properties they don’t live in. As a result, tax revenue to the city has increased, and so have property values—up 69 percent in 2002.

“We’ve come a long way, but we know we have a long way to go,” says Deprez. “Fortunately, we have the support of both the residents and the city, who now see each other as partners, not adversaries. We are continuing to make progress.”

This summer, Florida’s Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law legislation spearheaded by Deprez and NCON that makes it a felony to sell drugs within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, convenience stores, and other places frequented by young people.

“We are also getting good response to our program in which we’ll pay $100 to any property owner who takes down a chain link fence,” says Deprez, whose leadership continues to inspire NCON projects. “This makes the neighborhood look a whole lot friendlier,” she says.

Today, the little girl wounded in the drive-by shooting has recovered. The man who shot her was sentenced to 25 years in prison. And the neighborhood improvement effort that incident triggered is in high gear.

“Less than two years after this neighborhood came together and stormed city hall, we’ve seen a miracle of recovery, “ says Deprez. “I used to think of my real estate business as a practice. Now I think of it as a mission, and I feel as if I’m very close to being able to say, ‘Mission accomplished.’”


How to contact Claudia Deprez

Claudia Deprez, CIPS, CRB, CRS
The Deprez Team
521 Northwood Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33407

Northend Coalition of Neighborhoods (NCON)
2721 Poinsettia Way
West Palm Beach, FL 33407