Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The thread was too good to interrupt ... but where do we go from here?

The owner/occupant of this three-apartment (!) house at 1018 E. Spring was told by the OEO that his yard could not be used to park his vehicle, so he dumped a load of gravel on the lawn. The black flap hanging from the roof is tar paper; shingles are nowhere to be seen. After frequent complaints by the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, the owner was given a month to address various code violations. The deadline is February 17.

What do you think will happen?


For the umpteenth time in the short history of the NA Confidential blog, yesterday’s posting about New Albany’s often decrepit and dilapidated housing stock -- and our inability or unwillingness as a community to come to grips with what it means and how we might fix it -- has hit a rather formidable nerve on the part of our collective readership.

To these frequent expressions of conviction in the still sparsely populated blogosphere must be added the constantly repeated expressions of anger and frustration heard on a consistent basis at neighborhood association gatherings, and in public at numerous Board of Works and City Council meetings, along with past letters to the editor to all known local newspapers, as well as the combined totals of hundreds, if not thousands of hours of effort on the part of ordinary citizens to address the lingering problems of non-enforcement of ordinances that are supposed to govern unkempt, hazardous and unacceptable properties and the patently non-responsive entities that own them … and it becomes increasingly obvious that here, finally, is the single defining issue that unites people of all ages, races, classes, political affiliations and musical preferences.

But will they unite?

We have laws on the books, and although it would be helpful to see an official and explicit policy that embraces goals and standards of quantifying them, a full-time city attorney and a city court on hand to help do the job, the tools to begin certainly do exist.

Why, then, do we continue to accept conditions as they are?

Is this purely a monetary issue?

Were successive generations of political “leadership” powerless to prevent New Albany from sinking into the grip of the slumlord lobby, or is it more insidious than that?

Does it strike directly into the heart of this city’s persistent dysfunction – a low common denominator accepted for so long in housing, in discourse, in electoral choices – in culture itself -- that we’re now unable to cope with the therapies necessary to commence a cure?

What on earth are we afraid of?

NA Confidential does not endorse the view that the cancer of which we speak is the fault of this or any previous mayoral administration – not because we are beholden to this, that or another local politician, but because such a simplistic position is simply nonsensical.

It has taken a long time to reach this point.

For reasons that may remain unknown to us – desperation, payola, expedience, lack of imagination or just plain laziness – successive generations of political “leaders” have failed to address New Albany’s culture of unaccountability, failed to articulate a vision of residency that does not rely on the slumlord’s corrosive calculation, and failed what should be a government official’s fundamental measurement of efficiency, namely, fair and equal enforcement of laws that exist to maintain a level playing field for all citizens.

In recent weeks, numerous ideas have been discussed in this space. What is needed now is a strategy for coordinating the time and talents of the people who are willing to unite and make this our moment to try and make this a better place to live.

Much surely can be accomplished by volunteers if they’re properly directed.

It would be helpful to have a display of principled resolve, as well as a smidgen of backbone, from the city’s elected and appointed officials, all of whom at one time or another have paid lip service to the notion of accountability. It is understood that money’s tight, but perhaps there are other ways to approach this problem. We cannot go on using lack of money as an excuse not to make an effort.

There is a newspaper in New Albany, and that newspaper might decide to devote space to exposing the most egregious offenders by publishing photos and public records – or not. The depth of interest in topics like ordinance and building code enforcement and rental property inspections certainly is evident among the Tribune’s readers. Is the newspaper listening?

None of this stands to be easy, but guess what? Almost nothing in life is – never has been, never will be.

Where to start?


ceece said...

what's even more disgusting and disturbing is the fact that there were at least three children living there without beds to sleep on. The office across the street has said several times that they have had to keep the children out of the street.

no strike that, the most disgusting thing is that there is more attention to the condition of the guys house then the well-being of the children.

If ANYONE has an update on those children please let me know. I have been absolutely sick over this.

oldernewalbanian said...

Roger, the condition of the many of the properties in New Albany and nothing is done makes as much sense as a building that was built in 1934 when there was no zoning, everyone knew everyone, and there were probably only 1/3 the amount of vehicles in New Albany, the EPA, and IDEM did not exist, and drugs were something you took to get well, and there may have not even been a building inspector, and this building still in 2006 does business in that same building that has had little to no updates, no LEGAL parking, unless you call 15th Street a parking lot, and this building is still doing business with the city's blessings. Along the lines of no enforcement, are you also aware there is no permit needed to start up any business in New Albany? All of these things are in place for a reason, but it appears the people who could do something about it, will not. Good luck on you adventure - I know I got to know the people at the city county building very well. I got no help, but I did get to know them very well. I also got to know the ordinances very well, laws, etc. I guess that is worth something.

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg said...

This piece of property has been reported over and over the past 3 years by the ESNA. The owner has been given numerous citations about cleaning up the property, so he will put a couple bags of trash out and then that is it! Also, the neighborhoods have reported this property to the city for over 10 years and nothing, I repeat nothing, has been done.

Several member of the ESNA drove Mr. Roberts around the neighborhood and we showed him this house. Mr. Roberts said he could NOT see any building violations and just because it wasn't clean and keep up to our standards he couldn't do anything about it. Then after members of the ESNA went to the Board of Works and appointing out the codes, showing violations of these codes in pictures, we stated we had enough and we wanted someone or something done. Finally the city inspected the property and remember Mr. Roberts told us he could not see any violations before during the drive around, he walked away with two pages of violations for example: heating the house with a gas stove, the roof was leaking in several places, no smoke detectors, raw wiring, broken doors with carpet over the holes, broken windows with cardboard, garbage piled up in the corner outside with rats, etc...)! Two pages and to this date and from reports from the city (Mr. Roberts) none of those violations have been corrected. Today is again another deadline (30 days) and what does he do besides adding a gravel drive in the yard, NOTHING! Yes we are upset! We have a neighborhood clean-up day. We put fliers on the door of this house and spoken with the owner above cleaning up the yard and putting the garbage out so we could pick it up, but he is not interested! As for the kids that live there Ceece, I know of 2 businesses and several individuals that have reported this situation to child services and again more excuses (not enough time or manpower). This has reported to the Health Department also and again they seem like they don’t care because they never send anyone out! I have a call into Mr. Roberts about the deadline and the action or inaction the city is going to do about this piece of property, so I will report back as soon as I hear something!

Ann said...

Greg, I can commiserate with you on this. Our neighborhood went thru the same problem in 1994 with a horrible piece of property on East Main, and the city fought us tooth and nail every step of the way to avoid doing anything. The health dept did also. I was actually given, by mistake, a health department report showing that the children living there were suffering from lead poisoning from the flaking paint inside and outside the building.

Finally, after months and months and months of us going to everyone we could find who would listen, the building commissioner figured out a way to shut us up and not really do anything. He made an inspection and cited only a few simple things like broken doors, and just pretended that he didn't see the major violations that we knew for a fact existed.

The good news is that times are different now. We were lone voices in the wilderness back then because there were no neighborhood assns. then. No groups to unite and demand action. And that's what we are going to have to do (like we all don't have enough to do now, right?)

And to all you people who have the ability to correct these terrible situations, and whose job(s) it is to do so, you should be ashamed!

Ann said...

Oh, and by the way, Ceece, you'll love this response I got when I complained that the slumlord was taking advantage of poor, uneducated people and children who did not know what their rights were, and that it was my opinion that the city was aiding and abetting by allowing the situation to continue. I was told that I had ulterior motives--and was trying to get the property improved so that it would no longer be affordable for these people to live there, and that I was prejudiced and did not want poor/black/retarded people in my neighborhood.

So who would be the prejudiced one? The citizen who tries to get unsafe conditions resolved, or the city administration who thinks it's okay to let disadvantaged people live in unsafe conditions?

Anonymous said...

If children are involved in any of these instances, a phone call to Child Protective Services can be made. It can be anonymous and just state the concerns for the children. They are required to at least examine the situation and possibly put pressure on other departments.

ceece said...

NAA, that's fabulous.

HB, i believe they have been called several times. I don't want to inundate them with calls if they have received them and something is indeed happening.

Thanks though for the reminder!

Ann said...

Healthblogger, I called Child Protective Services about a neglected child in the same building I have been writing about. They refused to come unless I could provide the name of the child and the apt. number. I even offered to meet them personally in front of the bldg and point out the apt and they still refused to come.

Greg said...

I just spoke with Mr. Roberts and he stated that the home owner has applied for an extension to the deadline. Mr. Roberts stated that they (the city) have not yet decided to grant or deny his request. I told Mr. Roberts that I can't believe that they would even consider an extension! After 30 days and then just today he requests an extension. I asked Mr. Roberts if any of the violations had been addressed and he told that he had put in a couple of smoke detectors and the back apartment was now empty. In other words, no building violations had been corrected! The roof problems are still there, the furnace is not working, the windows are still broken out, the doors still have holes in them, the wiring is still exposed and the kids are still living in a slum! I can not believe this city! This is a slap in our face!!!

Anonymous said...

I can't say I am surprised, but it is always disappointing.

Has any official ever been legally challenged for not doing their jobs? Is there a mechanism to legally file suit against city officials for dereliction of duty or legally impeach them from the office?

Just wondering!

Ann said...

I have often thought that a class action suit against the city for failure to enforce its ordinances might be the only way to force the issue. But isn't it sad that any of us would have to consider such an action? Can't people just do their jobs?

Greg, I bet they give him an extension. Anything to keep the Building Commissioner from doing the hard work.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Annie, I was about to suggest a class action suit. I think other strategies should be employed first but, barring immediate positive change from those, I think we have strong grounds for a suit.

We've all made investments in this community with the understanding that laws would be reasonably enforced. A ridiculous level of non-enforcement is obviously having a negative effect on those investments. If nothing else, it would force the mayor and each member of the city council to publicly answer for their negligence under oath.

If they grant that guy an extension, we should stage a sit-in at the City-County building with full media coverage.

ceece said...

hell no, we won't go!

East Ender said...

Well, I just have to add my two cents worth here.
We have had very similar problems in this area of the city with no responses from the Building Commissioners office, and no help from the Health Dept.
We have a 5 apt. home that is rat infested and children are living there. When I call the Building Comm. office they can even recite the address back to me I've called so many times. Yet, no show.
I actually went and spoke with an attorney about a class action suit for dereliction of duty by City Authorities as well as them risking the health, safety and welfare of those they were elected to represent.

The New Albanian said...

We seem to have agreement that a class action lawsuit is an option. Perhaps Brandon can add background to this idea.

I sense that the tone of the response to the request for an extension by the 1018 E. Spring owner.

Brandon W. Smith said...

I think we have strong grounds for a suit.

Could you please elaborate?

I think trying to sue the city, especially as a class-action lawsuit, is a terrible idea. What could that possibly accomplish in the long run? What ever happend to political pressure and voting the bums out?

But what do I know, I'm not a lawyer.

Ann said...

I talked to my brother about this a few years ago; he's an attorney. He told me that a class action suit was possible, but that it couldn't be filed or joined by just anyone. You'd have to show that you were injured in some way by the city's lack of enforcement--that it jeopardized your health, safety or property value. You couldn't just say, "I live in New Albany and they don't enforce ordinances so therefore I'm injured and can sue."

But if you were an adjacent property owner to a slum property, for example, and you could show a pattern of dereliction of duty (not hard to do in New Albany), then yes, a group could file a class action suit.

I am not advocating this, but I am saying that it could happen, and if things don't straighten up, I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

Brandon W. Smith said...

There are many more issues than that. For example, depending on your legal theory and who you were suing, you also might fall under the Indiana Tort Claims Act and the officials involved could have immunity. But, again, not a lawyer, could be wrong. ;)

Ann said...

There are a lot of issues that would be involved in such an action, and again, I do not advocate it unless it is a last resort.

It's the worst possible solution to the problem, but sometimes the worst solution is the one that has to be chosen.

As for voting the bums out? The problem with that is that you generally don't find out they're a bum until after they take office. Then you're stuck with them for at least 4 years. Campaign promises? They're made to be broken.