Thursday, March 02, 2006

Odds & Ends

On the street where I live, there had been some effort to fix up a couple of properties that had fallen into disrepair - one a foreclosure, the other a vacant property whose previous tenants had trashed it, and a third rental unit that had changed hands recently.

Unfortunately, whoever was doing the work on these properties neglected to remove construction debris - they just left them on the treelawn. At first, scavengers took the best of the lot - wooden planks, a set of porch steps, and other useable items soon disappeared. But what was left behind - tree branches, pressboard scraps, rotten wood, toilet tank fragments, garbage - sat there, sloughing off into the street, with loose stuff blowing around. Unbagged, unbundled and unheeded, these piles of trash sat in front of three properties for four months.

At first, I assumed that the sanitation workers had removed what scavengers had left behind. And soon, snow covered them up - for a while. A January thaw revealed that the issue was unresolved. So, I did the following:

Called the City of Cleveland's Building and Housing Department, code division.
Called the City of Cleveland Health Department, complaints division.
Called the new councilman.

The next day, the councilman called me back and confirmed that the complaint had been made with Building and Housing. So far so good.

Then - nothing. The trash was covered with snow and then revealed with the thaw. I sort of stewed about it. My wife and I talked about moving (again). My mother-in-law suggested that we hold my daughter's first birthday in another neighborhood - somewhere nice.

Finally, I decided to just get rid of it. I asked a coworker if I could borrow his truck, and another coworker if she could pitch in. We would haul it to the dump - something a Cleveland resident can do four times a year.

Before the designated day, I called the code inspector. Had she done anything?

Well, she said, she had put a notice on the door, asking them to call her back. And had they called her back? No. Of course, it's a vacant house. Well, she said, I might send them a warning. Great. You could clean it up yourself and put a Mechanic's Lien on it, she suggested. Even the city can do that.


So - Michelle and I loaded up the truck and took it all to the dump. Between the three properties, it was quite a load.

I know there are more pressing items in the city. I know I should have followed up with the inspector, instead of just trusting that the process would work. Whatever that process is. I could have done more.

Driving to the dump, up Denison from W. 25th Street, I had time to think about the so-called 'Broken Windows' theory. Basically, it states that you fix the little things, like broken windows, then the bigger things, like crime and disinvestment, will take care of themselves. It had been a highly cited theory when I first got into community development and was credited with many improvements in urban policy and even community policing. In fact, newly-elected Mayor Jackson had just referred to it in his recent speech. But Denison from W. 25th St. to Ridge is a jumble of trash-strewn vacant lots, empty storefronts, and deteriorating Cleveland Doubles and once-grand Victorians. There are a lot of broken windows to fix.

On my street today are several homes with broken windows. Some vacant, some occupied, some boarded up. Trash tends to collect around them. Kids loiter. They smash stuff that's left behind, and garbage is their plaything.

It's not like we lack for resources. Grand houses remain. Young people have moved into the neighborhood and are working on rehabs, gardens, community events. The new councilman grew up near here, a community development board member lives next door, there's a church at the end of the street, one a block away, and another on the corner. The police station is a half mile away, fire station up the street, a major hospital anchors the neighborhood, the block club meets regularly.

I'm a booster for the city and I've worked hard on it, and I've put my money where my mouth is by buying property in the city and living in it - no tax abatement for me. I'm not alone in this. But if all our work comes to nothing it will be because we neglected the small things.


At 2:07 PM, Blogger Walter said...

Matt Carroll, interim director of the City of Cleveland's Department of Health, informed me that their inspectors issued violation notices for the properties in question on 2/1/06, from the complaint that was entered on 1/31/06. I am pleased to know that the City did follow up on this, and I stand corrected. My perception that nothing was happening was incorrect. However, it is still true that the conditions remained in place at all three properties, and that I was not informed that my complaint had registered. I should have called back!


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