Neighborhood plans from lifetime politicians don’t amount to much

One of my cottages needs painting. The city has written me up. It’s scraped to the bare wood- and needs a final sanding, washing and then priming with a good oil based primer and then a premium latex top coat. Most people wouldn’t scrape it to bare wood, but, that’s the only way to do a proper paint job on a 100 year old house with 104 siding.

When I bought it from the slumlord, it had asbestos shingles on it. I could have left them on and kept painting away, but I didn’t. It also was being used as an illegal drugstore- that bothered me more than what it looked like. That’s because neighborhoods aren’t made up of houses, they are made up of people. That’s why I bought that cottage and the one next to it- right across the street from my house. Since 1996 I’ve had good people living in both of them. They work, they pay rent, they don’t have 22 police calls a year like another house on my block.

A.J. Wagner, thinks the answer to fixing our neighborhoods is strong enforcement of housing codes:

The very survival of our neighborhoods and our entire City requires an expanded level of accountability and focus. Many of our neighborhoods are in a dismal state of decline. Dayton spent $10 million last year on housing demolition only to fall further behind on the number of houses that cannot be saved. This trend can only be reversed through a strong enforcement of housing codes.

via A.J. Wagner’s Neighborhood Plan | A.J. Wagner for Mayor 2013.

Nan Whaley thinks the solution is tearing down the houses that have fallen into disrepair (of course when you get big donations from demolition contractors and landfill operators it may sway your policy too). Considering she’s been on the commission for 8 years, for her to have any new plan or idea on how to solve this problem is farcical. She weighs in on Wagner’s plan (correctly for once) in the Dayton Daily news:

Whaley said of Wagner’s plan, “This isn’t a neighborhood plan, it’s a housing plan and a bad one at that.” She asked where the money will come from for Wagner’s extra inspectors, and said Wagner wrongly downplays the city’s demolition efforts. Wagner’s plan claims Dayton spent $10 million on demolition last year, when the total was actually $2.36 million in 2012, according to city officials, and roughly $10 million from 2009-12.

“We need to create incentives for buying and restoring blighted property, but Wagner’s plan punishes homeowners and creates more bureaucratic red tape,” Whaley said….

Wagner said he is uniquely qualified to deal with neighborhood housing problems, because he’s dealt with code violations as an attorney, property tax enforcement as a county auditor, foreclosure cases as a judge, and probate cases as a referee and counselor.via Mayoral candidate targets neighborhood quality.

The paper also quotes Leitzell, who isn’t a career politician and has actually restored a home or two, and led a neighborhood (as have I):

Leitzell said the solution is “much simpler” than Wagner’s plan.

“Marketing Dayton at a national level and attracting talented people and immigrants to fill the hundreds of unfilled high-tech jobs here would go a long way toward solving some of these neighborhood problems,” Leitzell said.

Notice, Leitzell talks about people- and filling homes? He gets it. People make neighborhoods- not the buildings. That was the sales pitch I made to the neighborhood when I made our marketing video, “South Park Soliloquy” back in 1996. It wasn’t about the historic homes, it was about the people and the neighborhood. It’s 30 minutes long- but still worth watching.

The idea of legislating our housing stock into desirability is embarrassing. It shows how out of touch Wagner is with the plights of our neighborhoods. We have laws against drug houses too, and we can’t enforce those. And, as I’ve said before, my office building was ready for demolition when I bought it, and the number one thing holding people back from rehabbing it was that the number of hoops I had to jump through to do it didn’t equal the potential value after completion for most. I looked at it differently- knowing that it helped the value of my home, and that by making it possible for me to walk to work for 23 years I’d be saving a lot of money on gas and time in travel.

There are lots of things we can do that don’t cost a ton of money to bring our neighborhoods back, but they are only going to come back if the people in the neighborhoods now believe in their own neighborhoods’ future, the people around them, and that they will live in a safe place. We don’t do that by making sure a house is painted or it has gutters or we’ll fine you. In fact, Wagner’s requirement of having a home that’s rundown fixed before it can be sold will probably cause even more abandoned real estate and deeds turned over to a city that has a lousy history of rehab and a 29-year backlog on demolition.

There are no short answers, political slogan worthy solutions to fixing our neighborhoods (or housing stock). For me to explain my ideas fully would take nearly a book, but it comes down to empowering neighborhoods to ramp up their density, or circle the wagons and weather the storm. What we have to be most focused on is quality of life, and empowering people to make their own futures, because government can’t solve all the problems- it can just strive to do government as efficiently and effectively as possible. Instead of worrying about the paint, let’s worry about police response times. Instead of worrying about the gutters on your eaves, lets get the people who require the multiple police calls a month to leave and that they aren’t welcome here. Instead of tearing down houses, let’s try to make neighborhood programs that bring people (young and old) together so that when they want to sell their friends on moving into their neighborhood- it’s the people you live next door to that sell the neighborhood more than the buildings.

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