I’ve written about some of the problems I’ve encountered trying to live ethically in our city before. Most notably how crme and personal safety issues can make it very hard to live by your green ideals. But a new round of articles in our local paper is finally highlighting yet another issue that has made city living much harder and uglier than it needs to be, an issue very near and dear to my heart.
See that picture? That house is only a couple hundred feet away from mine, and for the past 5 years I’ve been watching it fall apart, little by little, be used as a crackhouse, used to store stolen goods, catch fire, and in general be such a hazard that finally the crackheads even moved out. Cities are supposed to have departments who see to issues like this, departments called Code Enforcement. However, 5 years and multiple complaints later, this house still stands, while the owner lives 3 miles away in a house designated as a church for tax purposes.
The city claims on one hand not to be able to find and serve citations to the owner, and on the other hand tells me the house has been thru the court system and is slated for demolition. That promise of demo came months ago, and yet there has still been no progress. That answer also didn’t address why previous complaints have simply vanished off the books, something I found incredibly frustrating, and which makes me suspect the promises I’ve currently been given. Then I found this article, in which an audit found that records were kept in boxes instead of on computers, there was no case prioritization, and that employees were flat out lying about records, inspections and results. Nice.
Houses like this are a blight on neighborhoods, creating a cycle it gets harder and harder to break. In addition to being eyesores, they create a real public safety hazard, as they become havens for criminal activity. In my block alone, 5 houses have foreclosed in the last 2 years, while 2 others sit simply abandoned. Part of the reason is because no one wants to buy a house on a street that appears so uncared for, and banks often won’t lend to those who do. Property values on the entire street are forced down, making it difficult for neighbors who need refinancing or mortgage adjustments to get them, and creating upside-down mortgage situations for others, both issues which serve to create even more foreclosures, thus perpetuating the downward cycle.
To add insult to ijury, the banks and investors who can buy the foreclosures often either let them sit and become more derelict, or rent them out to people with little to no incentive to make the neighborhood a better place to live. There is also little to no pressure on those owners to maintain their properties in ways that don’t further destroy the neighborhood. Violations go unanswered and absentee landlords face no consequences. Instead, code enforcement officers appear to operate based on who they think they can intimidate, focusing on non-issues like front yard gardens.
Even when neighbors band together to board up these houses and keep the properties reasonably cared for, it’s not a solution. As we found out, code enforcement will often stop pursuing the owner at all if it appears the neighbors are doing the work.
Since that last article, there has been some pressure to clean up the office known as Code Enforcement, and hopefully the new director will be able to implement a system of prioritizing the worst offenders and accomplishing real change. We need a system in which neighbors can have real input in the care and direction their streets are taking. This does not mean perfectly manicured lawns, cookie-cutter paint schemes and vindictive calls. Rather, neighbors should simply be given the tools to keep properties from falling into the tragic disrepair seen above.