A step in the right direction for dealing with blight: good work, Judge Pianka

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 09/04/2006 - 16:19.

The 09/04/06 Plain Dealer has a blurb about an important step forward in the fight against blight in NEO, writing that "Starting tomorrow, Cleveland Municipal Housing Judge Ray Pianka will order that every abandoned house in foreclosure on his docket carry a sign identifying the owner and the owner's phone number. The name and number of the mortgage company also will be listed, along with the court case number and a contact number for someone at the court. "These owners and mortgage companies have anonymity now. Well, OK, if the case is before the court, now everyone will know who is responsible.""

I believe Dayton has been doing the same thing for a whle and I think this is an excellent program. It should go further, with online resources to find the same information, and analyses of the offenders. I also feel the same should be done with serious code violations - foreclosure should not be the trigger for such public humiliation, but rather society should respnd to all such poor social conduct, and that should apply to the blighted commercial buildings all over our region. I will never understand how an old factory can be allowed to sit vacant and neglected for years, blighting an entire neighborhood, when it is owned by people or corporations with the abilities to fix the defects or sell the property to someone who may. For example, Jacobs owned the old Coast Guard Station and blighted it for years... Wolstein is blighting the Flats... why is that allowed.

Worse, in my neighborhood, 1,000s of properties are poorly maintained. Many are rentals that are lived in by families, and so the children are lead poisoned. If housing inspection, was linked to health inspection and lead poisoning data, and the courts became involved, then the owners of the properties could be prosecuted rather than rewarded for their evil. The GCLAC is looking at ways to accomplish this, and Judge Pianka has shown the community that innovation in enforcement is needed to solve core community problems, like blight, so let's now take enforcement to the appropriate level and attack all the property-abuse based problems of our region, and go after the property owners, banks and other principle parties that are responsible.

Interesting blogroll on why killer lived on W.98th

On Bill Callahan's blog is an interesting debate on the absentee landlord owner of the property rented to the killer of Detective Schroeder - "Mr. McGervey, who apparently lives in Westlake, is the absentee landlord who owns the three-family house where Santiago is a tenant. Mr. McGervey, along with his wife, owns at least ten other West Side rental properties — some purchased privately, some picked up from HUD or VA. His mother and father, also suburbanites, own another thirteen or so. Another McGervey named John, apparently related, has five or six. (This is all from the county auditor’s records, available on line.)"

To address the problem of slumlords from Westlake renting property to potential copkillers, Callahan proposes: "There ought to be a law that creates criminal and civil liability for property owners whose tenants use their premises for illegal activity — from disturbing the peace to discharging a firearm at a police officer — and who can’t show that they’ve made diligent efforts to prevent or remedy the situation. A law, in other words, that would put a Joseph McGervey at serious legal and financial risk when he rents an apartment to a Wilson Santiago. A law that says to landlords: From now on, if it happens on your property, it’s your problem."

I tend to think Callahan's proposal is not actionable, but there are responses that are, including one from Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, which is consistent with my position: "How about the CDC starting an absentee landlord public website? Public humiliation of the landlords that allow their property to become an eyesore. This could also contain information on which banks are holding the abandoned property in our neighborhoods. The CDCs need to have a better handle on social services in the community that could help their residents. They should stop trying to get rid of homeless programs and instead make sure that there are experts on mental illness, alcohol and drugs, immigration issues, homelessness, child abuse, etc. in every neighborhood."

Disrupt IT

Blame the landlords not the homeless

Last Friday I was talking to a man who has lived in Ohio City for 10 years. He was out walking his two dogs and orange tabby cat (yes, walking a cat!) while his children played at the playground. I told him that my family had just moved to the neighborhood so he offered some insights. He told me how he loves living here and that what makes this neighborhood great is that so many people invest lots of time and money in Ohio City. Standing next to the incredible community garden on Franklin I saw the best proof of that investment. Unsolicited, he also told me that the homeless shelters nearby are not a problem, that the residents are good people and really don't contribute to crime in the area.

Then why do we have so much crime here? Where do the bad people live and why do they live side by side with people who put so much effort into making this neighborhood beautiful? I agree with Bill Callahan that bad landlords are to blame. Shabby houses, maintained to the very minimum of inhabitable stardards divided up into 3, 4 or more units -- every street in Ohio City has them. The kind of places sexual preditors can afford when they get out of prison. Last time I checked the registry there were over 200 in the 44102 zip code. Poor or not, good people just don't want to live in the kind of places many slum landlord rent, so they end up harboring people like Wilson Santiago. Sadly, unless there are some harsh consequences for neglecting your property and abusing the neighborhood it's in, things won't change.