Just back from a contentious meeting of Historic South Park Inc. For the last year, the County Prosecutor’s office has been sending high-priced lawyers out to our meeting to answer questions. Of course, since we can’t actually get them to file a case directly, this is a ridiculous waste of resources. Tonight, the two county prosecutors were joined by a city prosecutor, who also, won’t file a case unless it’s brought to them by the police, the city law department, or some other department.
The issue was mostly housing code enforcement, at which the laws have been failing for years to make a real change in our community’s net worth. The problem is that they mostly deal with prosecuting physical issues- peeling paint, overgrown yards, dilapidated and abandoned properties. The secret to South Park’s success has been by focusing on social capital- instead of the bricks and mortar. More homeowners create more stable neighborhoods. Local landlords do better than absentee ones. Law abiding citizens create a sense of security that makes investment possible.
So, why are most of our laws focused on the physical capital? My quality of life isn’t damaged by the peeling paint on my neighbor’s carriage house. Sure, the wood can weather- and eventually rot- and decrease the value or increase the costs of repair- but this is a minor problem compared to the following key issues that are killing our neighborhoods: I call them the four pillars of failing cities.
Bad neighbors are bad for investment
Around 2008/9 a foreclosed home was bought by a drug addict with a brood of criminals for family. On average, we’ve had well over 30 police calls per year to the address. Older sons have been in and out of prison, younger ones are a constant issue for children’s services and truancy officers. Windows are broken, bonfires in the backyard are often used to separate metal from plastic for scrap (including a large number of air conditioners) and since they moved in- a string of 17 years without a single break-in, changed to several a year. Well documented on this site.
While the city has no problem charging law-abiding citizens progressively higher fines for false alarm responses by police, no one is fining the bad neighbors for their draining of city resources for their failure to conform to society’s basic rules. Change this- and shut down homes that require inordinate amounts of public dollars- and not only will the city have more resources, but quality of life will improve in the neighborhood- boosting investor confidence.
Bad bankers are bad for investment
A home once appraised for over $150K gets foreclosed on. It had a woman who was divorced from a disgraced public servant living in it. She owed about $70K on the property- and the bank wouldn’t settle for less than the outstanding debt. They used our county prosecutors and sheriff to bounce her out of the home. Once vacant, they failed to properly winterize the home, forcing the bank to invest about $5k to make the home sellable. They then auctioned the home for $45K. Had they accepted a refinancing deal of $40K (what they netted on the deal) they would have kept her in the home- and not used your tax dollars to process the paper to evict- probably costing the taxpayers another $10K.
The solution: If a bank sells a property for less than what its lowest offer was to the homeowner, they are forced to contribute the difference back to a fund to help assist homeowners keep their properties. If a bank has inventory that is currently not being maintained or properly marketed, they aren’t able to proceed with foreclosures. If a bank takes possession of a property in habitable condition- and sells it in less than habitable condition, due to theft, malfeasance, or incompetence, they are forced to pay the purchaser for all repair costs to return those services.
The foreclosure cycle is only contributing to decreasing property values and it’s insanity for taxpayers to continue to support private enterprise with managing their business. As a small business owner, I can barely count on the courts to help me collect on my court-awarded debts.
Bad property owners are bad for investment
We have properties throughout Dayton that are owned by shell corporations, people in other countries, people who can’t be found. While peeling paint is something the city seems to focus on, the most dangerous physical problems are:
- Leaky roofs
- Overflowing gutters, which can cause foundation issues and siding and structural rot
- Stink trees- weeds that grow at a crazy pace and can break foundations in a few years
- Critters- raccoons, possums, feral cats, etc., can render a home uninhabitable quickly.
The problem is, if you can’t find the owner, how do you address these problems? This is where nuisance property laws and eminent domain could be useful, but both seem to be too much work for our elected public officials. We’d rather wait until the property is to the point where it has to be torn down than create intervention strategies that can avert entropy, which is the real enemy. A vacant home isn’t killing the neighborhood values- unless it begins to have the above problems. Work on systems of notification, fines and seizure in order to prevent non-compliant owners from devaluing others’ properties through their apathy.
Impotent police are bad for investment
No, I’m not talking about cops that can’t become parents, I’m talking about police who don’t have the manpower or the support of the community to enforce community standards. Sure, robberies, murders and vandalism suck- but, quality of life, peace and tranquility are where police can best make their presence felt.
You don’t speed through Oakwood for good reason- they enforce speeding laws- without the assistance of stand in cameras. They come when you call about drunk neighbors, loud music or even not putting your trash cans away. Dayton police would scoff at all of those complaints when in fact, those are the root base of community standards of conduct that make the difference in property values. Investment in community safety may trump all “economic development” dollars ever spent in our community- and pay back many times more, than our current reactive solution of tearing down the detritus of our years of failed priorities.
We, the citizens of Dayton, deserve better. If we had leaders who really understood anything other than how to keep their friends and family on the government dime, we might stand a chance of once again becoming the “Cleanest and safest city in America” worthy of investment.