Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Making Blight Homeless in Springfield...

It seems that code enforcement and homelessness are buzzing around Springfield's digital universe recently. Well, not wanting to be left out of the fray, it seems fitting that I should give comment on the issue.

The New England Rogue Journal, in a
recent blurb, detailed how Springfield has the laws on its side when it comes to curbing blight and homelessness. The Journal's observation hits the mark quite well. Springfield, between its own laws, and no particularly important contravening court opinions, has the advantage to combat crumbling homes and homelessness. However, it has been unable to for some time.

Blight is an issue that may require a bit more out of the box thinking. Again, perhaps through a home-rule petition, the city could seek the power (if it does not already possess it) to take properties that sit derelict for so long. If the property is falling apart, yet paid up on taxes, the loss of the meager revenue should not stop the city. However, rather than just have more junk land on its hands, the city should coordinate with neighborhood associations that can work to improve the property and then get it back to the market.

Here's how it could work. If a property owner does not keep their land up, the city eventually seizes it. Then it turns it over to the neighborhood association that then, perhaps through its own resources or via a line of credit from a local bank, cleans and renovates the property. Then the property goes to market. Once sold, the city, which in the renovating period, agreed to suspend collection of taxes for the property, gets its money plus any costs from the seizure. The rest of money will be used to payoff the renovation costs. Anything left over may be taken by the city for blight reduction efforts or channeled into another similar project within the same neighborhood.

Such an effort would need to begin in the city's healthier neighborhoods. Not for snobbish reasons, but because therein exists the money and frankly, less blight. Once its on its feet, the program could move into the more stubbornly blighted areas.

A strong will is necessary to make plans like this happen. The same is true for homelessness. As much has been said about this, I will keep my opinion brief. Basically, we can't end it. The first step to solving a problem is to recognize reality. It is a task that is beyond us. We can seek to curtail it. The city needs to regulate social service agencies or at least control where they may go through zoning. Place them within reach of public transportation to be sure, but they need not be in the heart of downtown or next to the Hall of Fame. Sadly, as one poster on Urban Compass insinuated (NoPolitician), these agencies are run largely by people from the suburbs. Their interests are split from that of the city and that too is a problem. In addition, the inner workings of city government are often lobbied from without the city's borders. No doubt power brokers and money men from outside the city attempt to peddle influence within city hall to the benefit of their own community. We'll get more into that when the municipal elections get closer.

For the moment, that seems not to be a problem. The Control Board keeps influence away from the suburbs as much as it does from the city itself. Charles Ryan, though surely possessing his own cadre of "backers" appears to not be bought. Right now we need to focus on innovation and working with a neighbors to solve problems that affect us all.


Anonymous said...

Taking a property due to lack of maintenance at the City's whim is a violation of the rights and liberties this country was founded on and the constitution we so value, not to mention state laws...a City has no authority to just take a property because we don't like the way it is maintained. There must be a reason by law to take it for example by eminent domain for public purpose with just compensation, or non payment of taxes, proof of a need for receivership to a judge(generally not applicable to vacant properties) etc.,

It's not about "loss of revenue" as you state stopping the City from taking abandoned, unmaintained property that is up on taxes but rather the law and citizens' rights. The fifth amendment clearly provides that property can not be taken for public use without just compensation. While your idea is nice it has no basis in the law and is a violation of multiple laws.

Matt S. said...

Anonymous Friend:

While you are right that we cannot simply take it, we as a city do have a right to see to it that our neighborhoods are well-maintained. The Historic Commission does this all the time. My notions would only apply to those property holders who have consistently thumbed their noses at the city's demands to maintain their property. At that point, they may owe the city much in citations and the property could then be seized for non-payment. Or something like that. Moreover, I have never claimed to be an expert in the field, but rather just voicing my opinion. Furthermore, whether we like it or not Kelo v. whoever said we would not compensate them. Their property is worthless anyway, so we would give them whatever pittance it is worth.