We’re closing 2006 with a late flurry of passion with respect to the state of the city and how it might be improved, and I’d again like to thank readers for their continued participation this week as we’ve again explored “cleaning up” New Albany as a major community theme for 2007.
With so many things happening in the city, and believe it or not, with numerous positive developments literally occurring every day, I keep thinking to myself that from an editorial standpoint, there are numerous other topics we could be covering.
Or are there, really?
Whenever the "clean up" topic arises, NAC's readership numbers skyrocket, comments spike, and the whole enterprise shifts to another level. Quite obviously, there are many among us who believe in the merits of the seemingly self-evident position that without addressing a fundamental enforcement failure on the part of this community, any conceivable foundation for future success will be shaky, at best.
Accordingly, this recurring notion of cleaning up the city obviously has some semblance of legs, and yet, as has been noted, nothing much ever is observed to happen. The bulk of the local political and governmental bureaucracy seemingly remains unmoved. We’re neither consistently acknowledged, nor presented with any clue as to projected institutional changes beyond the application of temporary Band-Aids and the occasional implementation of partisan political photo-ops in support of the two-party system.
In 2007, we hope to determine why, and to make inroads toward changing the culture of calculated unaccountability for which New Albany is rightly, if sadly, known.
Tuesday's “trash brigade” essay, which was reprinted from the suddenly burgeoning Tribune forum, raised a number of questions, comments and private e-mails. The essay came from an unidentified apologist of the status quo, who reasoned that any effort to bring slumlords into general compliance with basic property standards in fact constitutes an attack on the poor and less privileged. Arguably the most eloquent response to this curiously reasoned position came from New Alb Annie, author of the Diggin’ in the Dirt blog, and I’m lifting it to the NAC marquee to give her words the exposure they properly deserve.
And, be sure you read Ann's Thursday blog entry: Rats and Resolutions.
Whoever authored the "trash brigade" commentary certainly has the right stuff to hold a position in our current political cabinet, with its culture of non-enforcement and ludicrous reasoning for doing so.
How many homes in New Albany that are in violation are owned by 'poor people'? In the majority of cases, these houses are owned by slumlords, who take advantage of poor people. The unfortunate, many times uneducated tenants don't know that they, although they may be poor, uneducated and without other things like a good credit history or financial resources, are entitled to value for their rent money. They don't, in many cases, realize that means the windows and doors are supposed to work properly, the furnace and water heater is supposed to be functional, the roof isn't supposed to leak, vermin isn't supposed to be infesting the premises.
No, they are poor, and they consider themselves lucky just to have a roof over their head. Maybe they are in a Section 8 program, and they don't want to make waves. They simply do not know what their rights are, and the slumlords want it to stay that way. And the City of New Albany is happy to aid and abet.
Slumlord X makes a hefty campaign donation every few years to whomever the favored candidate is, and in return, the slumlord continues business as usual, safe from those pesky building inspections that cities with a tenant rights association have.
Tolerance? What about justice? What about minimum community standards being enforced, equitably, so that everyone, rich, poor or in the middle can enjoy the same basic rights--a clean, heated place to live, in a building that is maintained to those minimums set forth by law, in a community that does not allow heaps of trash to pile up and scofflaws to add to the heaps when it pleases them?
The new class of poor who seem to be getting exploited now are Hispanics, and the City of New Albany is helping all the slumlords out with this. Many of these renters do not speak the language well, do not realize they, as tenants, have certain rights when it comes to housing standards. When the educated among us complain about the conditions of these myriad dilapidated rental properties, we're not complaining about the people who live in them, unless those residents are blatant lawbreakers. No, it's the non-enforcement of codes that irks.
But what response do our complaints get? Oh, that's right, we're prejudiced against the poor. So who would be the more prejudiced, those who want to see rental properties cleaned up and well-maintained, or those who turn a blind eye to the conditions the occupants live in? My, my, our administration wouldn't be assuming that because these people may be poor, they like to live in dirty, ill-kept slums, would they?
One way out of the vicious cycle of non-enforcement of codes is an active tenant rights group. Tenants, especially those who are uneducated or have impediments to understanding their basic rights in terms of rental housing, need to be informed that they can withhold rent payments for certain reasons like non-functioning heat, and that they cannot be evicted for complaints about issues like this. But here in New Albany, the practice has been, and continues to be, to empower the slumlord at the great detriment of the city.
Thanks, Ann. That's a marvelous statement of principle.