Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Taking action against blight
One ordinance would provide a financial reward for information on vandalism.
BY AMANDA GARRETT
WARREN City council members are sponsoring four ordinances they say will help Warren take a proactive approach to fighting blight.
Councilman Robert L. Dean Jr., D-at large, who is sponsoring legislation to toughen the housing code, said dilapidated buildings have become an unwelcome but familiar site.
"I think we've gotten used to the blight, and I think it's a shame that we've gotten used to it," Dean told The Vindicator. "We don't notice the vacant house on our street or the empty gas station on the corner, but people who visit our community do."
Dean's ordinance would change Warren's housing code to make owners more responsible for vacant dwellings. The legislation would expand the definition of a blighted building to include any dwelling that is a fire hazard or a place for criminal activity, he noted.
"When a home has become a haven for drugs or prostitution, landlords aren't going to be able to pretend they don't notice any longer," Dean said.
Also, if the city has to perform any maintenance, there would be a cost: Warren would charge $50 for every window that is boarded up and $100 for every door that is boarded. Other maintenance would cost the owner $150 per month for the first 12 months, and $200 per month for anytime after that.
Bob Pinti, the city's deputy health commissioner, asked council during a Health and Welfare Committee meeting Tuesday to consider adding to the legislation.
Pinti said he would like to see owners have a specific amount of time to rehabilitate condemned houses. "Either the owner fixes the problem within 90 days or the city files charges against them," he said.
Councilman James Pugh, D-6th, has sponsored legislation that will make vandalism of a vacant structure a crime. If passed, vandalism will be considered a minor misdemeanor, according to the legislation.
Pugh said his ordinance is similar to legislation recently passed by Cleveland's city council.
"We're trying to take what works for other cities and use them here," he said.
Pugh also is sponsoring legislation that will pay residents for reporting theft or damage to a vacant building. As it stands, the ordinance would reward residents with $100 for reporting theft, damage or destruction to ongoing properties if the report leads to the arrest and conviction of someone for vandalism.
Councilman Andrew Barkley, D-3rd, has sponsored legislation that will fine landlords without city permits $1,000 for every day they rent and do not have a license.
Council's ordinances are a good first step to combating the blight problem, Law Director Gregory Hicks said.
"If council passes this legislation, blight is not going to suddenly disappear," he said. "But it's one more tool in our toolbox to fix the problem."