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Friday, November 02, 2007

Candidate Question #10 Codes

Question#10: Codes

The quality of neighborhood living has been negatively affected by the persistent, and often ignored, decay of properties. Detail a plan using current code regulations to immediately improve the appearance of under maintained properties?

Strong Neighborhoods Make Strong Cities. Our city is a city of neighborhoods; they are the lifeblood of our city. The strength of those individual neighborhoods creates the vitality of our city. Each neighborhood has its unique characteristics and needs. I know all of our neighborhoods and will assist neighbors in identifying their needs and resources and in mobilizing programs to meet those needs. We will rebuild our city from the neighborhoods up ensuring that the residents play a vital role in the rejuvenation that is so sorely needed in many areas.

To strengthen our neighborhoods we will:

§ Establish the “Clean It and Lien It” program. We will secure vacant structures, cut weeds and grass to reduce rodents and unsightliness and secure the building envelope to prevent further decay. Once the property has been secured we will execute on the lien and either get paid or we will take possession of the structure, sell it to a proven developer who will then sell it as a restored single-family residence.

§ Initiate the “Curb Appeal Task Force” as a part of the Code Department. We will equip the code department with hand held computers loaded with exterior code violations. As they walk down a street they will input, simply by using a stylus, to check off violations such as peeling paint, broken windows, trash, etc. This will eliminate blight and will protect these vacant structures from becoming the problems of the future.

§ Property owners that do not make necessary repairs must be dealt with swiftly but fairly and in a uniformed manner. We will declare war on blighted properties.

§ Initiate discussions with local bankers to create a revolving loan fund to assist low and moderate-income families, especially seniors, in making necessary improvements to their home.

§ Create a “Neighborhood Network” homepage on the city website where residents easily identify what is happening in their neighborhood and how they can be involved in its progress.

§ Encourage more involvement and leadership in the neighborhoods and work with those leaders in creating a comprehensive vision for the city.Actively communicate and meet with neighborhoods on a regular basis holding at least one “town meeting” per quarter in one of the neighborhoods.

The city needs to develop a database of buildings that are determined to be under maintained. This can be accomplished by city officials walking throughout the city and documenting structures that do not meet Article 1193 – Existing Structure Code. This data can be stored on a data collector in the field and then downloaded to a computer system back at city hall. If a structure is identified as violating the Existing Structure Code then a meeting with the structure’s owner needs to be scheduled and a plan developed to bring the structure into compliance. The city should monitor the progress of the plan and if no work is accomplished then the enforcement procedures of the ordinance should be implemented. This plan does take a significant amount of code enforcement officer time but I believe that it will provide for greater citizen cooperation in getting the structure up to code.

An audit of the labor pool and how it is being used will be first on the agenda. The other thing that we need to do during this time is to have all offending property owners sent certified letters stating that they have 30 days to comply with repairs in order to bring their properties up to code. If they do not comply, the city will perform these repairs and either bills the owners, or they will forfeit their properties. Once we know how and where the labor is being used, and where we have extra manpower, then we can proceed with phase two.

Phase two will consist of getting extra manpower from the labor pool to start performing the repairs on the properties that are not following the order. If the properties are vacant, then once the work is started, the property owner will be billed for all manual labor, and administrative labor involved with each property, at the maximum rates allowed by law. These rates are usually called prevailing wage rates. Figure about $100 an hour for general laborers. Once repairs have been completed, the property owner will have 30 days to make restitution, or the city follows through with either a Sheriff's sale, or property seizure, due to foreclosure, or whatever other legal means we have at our dispossal. Average turnaround time for the city to foreclose will be less than 1 year. Considering it has taken the city over 20 years to buy or seize other properties that have been blighted, that is a massive improvement.

Phase three will consist of initially offering to the local neighborhood residents the property at cost. Secondly, offering it to city employees that don't live in the city at cost, so long as they move in and claim it as their primary residence. Thirdly, offering it up for sale at fair market value to the general public. If it goes to the general public, the city makes the highest profit, and brings more money into the coffers, and actually has city employees from the labor pool making money for the city, instead of just being an expense. If it goes to a city employee, or a resident of the neighborhood, then it will still bring a profit, because at the prevailing rate, the city will still be making a profit off of the labor.

This plan may not be 100% perfect, but it is certainly better that what we currently have. The Citizens Oversight Committee will be the most ideal in this aspect, because current employees that are doing the bare minimum for their jobs will step up their work, and stop whining about being overworked, when they know for themselves that they are performing a substandard service.

This question really belongs to the mayoral candidates, who will oversee city hall and its employees. That being said, I do think that the code department needs to be separated from Planning and Economic Development and restructured so there’s more accountability, and so that codes are enforced uniformly. Vacant and decayed properties that can be seized under current law must be seized. I propose then offering those properties to police, fire, and city hall new hires at a discount, in exchange for those new hires agreeing to live in the city and improve the properties. Similar programs have had great effect elsewhere, would induce city employees to live in the city, and would help our neighborhoods.

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