An update on the house on the street that was set ablaze recently: The city came and secured the home and cleaned up the property. Despite my efforts so far I haven't been able to contact the owner. Thanks to the folks in the mayor's office for responding so well.
Mark Not the Race Car Driver has brought up several points which deserve to be addressed. He asked why the neighbors couldn't have boarded up the house themselves. Well, it's illegal for us to do so.
Until the city takes the house for unpaid taxes – which is a fairly long process – it is private property. We just can't go over and seal it up. The city has to go to Housing Court and get an emergency order after a waiting period in which an attempt is made to contact the owner of the property.
What the city did was to properly board up the house and then clean away all of the fire-debris. Since there was a lot of leaves and trash all over the place, they also cleaned that stuff up.
All of that clean-up and securing would have been time consuming, expensive and again illegal if the neighbors had been able to do it.
Mark has also brought up the question of how or why a burnt house "hurts" a neighborhood. A shell that sit there for years – and these things can sit for years – sends a clear message that the owners of the property care little of their homes, that they walk away from their obligations and responsibilities. As a homeowner I must abide by the health and safety ordinances of the city. The owner of a fire-damaged home who does nothing is saying "Screw you."
Most people want to live in an urban neighborhood in which people are making the attempt to keep their property up to code and looking reasonably well. I've had to replace a roof (almost $10,000) repoint chimneys ($1,500) paint the house ($2.500) and am preparing to have it painted again, besides doing other things (plumbing and electrical work) as part of meeting city standards and up-grading my home.
If your property is next to one that is literally a wreck, your home's re-sell potential is greatly affected. Who wants to live next to a fire-damaged abandoned property?
Mark has also expressed questions on why I'm blaming the owner of the home rather than the people who started the fire. His analogy was what if my home was broken into when Mary and I were visiting Scotland; would it be fair to print my name in newspapers saying it was my fault I didn't secure my house well enough?
Well, I suppose I took for granted that everyone reading this blog would understand that I want the bastards who torched this place to suffer the proper consequences. I guess I was wrong. This isn't a liberal or conservative thing – although Mark's argument seems to leaning in the direction that I'm some sort of blame the victim guy. This is a getting-along-in-the-big-city kind of thing.
An absentee owner of property in a city knows that to protect their investment they need security and a local property manager. For a neighborhood to succeed, everyone needs to live up to their responsibilities.
One final thing, the question was asked about what was so bad about a landlord leaving a home open so a homeless person could get out of the rain. The problem is it's not just the homeless who might find the home, it's the drug dealers, it's the gang members. I don't want a place near me that is tailor-made for illegal activity.
If I knew there was a homeless person on the street I would make some calls to organizations that help the homeless so that person can get real help in getting off the streets. I've covered the homeless issue in Springfield perhaps more than any single reporter and we have some programs that are working here. Allowing someone to squat isn't going to get them into a real home, get real medical care, link them up to a real job.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs