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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5 Responses

  1. Mel March 7, 2013 / 11:19 am
    Am I wrong in thinking that AJ’s plan seems more about holding speculators accountable? You know, the ones who buy and sell real estate in this town, often from way far away – the completely absent slumlord that buys up cheap housing stock on the west and east sides, only to never have any personal connection with it? DDN did a big “investigative” piece on the practice last year.
    I really like the mayor’s plan of attracting and supporting human capital, rather than focusing on the housing stock itself. That’s one of the reasons I’m hopeful there can be a push to unstick city bureaucracy, to make it more attractive for new homeowners to move here.
    On that note, why does the city seem to throw up its hands, shrug and say “too bad” when a homeowner magically racks up at $2G+ water bill over the course of a quarter? The level of service and explanations for mysterious charges there are bad enough already, but I’m thoroughly paranoid this is going to happen to me, and instead of the city accepting it’s an anomaly with their new electronic meter reading system, they’ll force me to pay it.

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  2. Chad March 8, 2013 / 5:38 pm
    The City needs to stem the tide of outside investors buying up Dayton properties to act as slumlords. They should do this by realizing that absentee landlords, by nature, create an extra burden on the Citizens and City resources and bill them for it accordingly. I think a $2k a year, non-resident investor fee, applied to real estate bills for anyone buying properties who doesn’t live here, should do the trick. If you’re going to profit off of our community with disregard of your impact on the people there should be consequences, the problem is rampant in this town.
    There’s a saying in the land lord business “can’t see it from my house.” This attitude is hurting the city and something needs done about it.. the extra money could fund inspections, extra police, all the resources that the problem requires.

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  3. David Esrati March 8, 2013 / 9:19 pm

    @Chad- the local investors aren’t really chomping at the bit either- so your plan would pretty much kill all investment.

    Also- $2k a year is about what my tax bill is- so, you are effectively doubling taxes.

    The problems aren’t going to be solved by government- but, if government did it’s job better- maybe people would feel more comfortable investing.

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  4. Chad March 8, 2013 / 11:13 pm
    @David – I disagree with both your points. There are plenty of local buyers and the plan wouldn’t kill all out-of-state investing.. just even the playing field for the City. We’re getting the losing end of this deal now and the return on investment is so good here that I think a lot of investors would consider it a cost of doing business. Doubling the tax bill, that was the plan.
    The house around the corner from me (114 Glencoe) made the news this week, NY based slumlord renting to drug addicts who didn’t mind living in feces and cock roaches. We can either figure out a way to budget for this problem or we can stay on this path that is doomed. I think we should be promoting local ownership and discouraging the slumlords.

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  5. Kim Owens March 13, 2013 / 10:48 am
    David, I’ve heard for a long time that the city inspectors go after the people who will take action and/or pay their fines, while ignoring the areas where people are less likely to do either. Very frustrating.
    I think Chad has some good points. Dayton makes national news for the cheap real estate and foreclosures. People from all over the world are investing and don’t care about our city. I live on the 400 block of North Garland and the absolute biggest bottom-line issue we have in that area is landlords who just want the rent check. The landlord who owns the house next to me told me, when he bought the house, that he owns a lot of properties, does applications, etc. Yep, he does applications…but only to make sure the people can pay their rent. He has ridiculed me when I complained to him about the loud parties and the garbage laying all over the property. There’s another house on my block that has had two separate drug busts in the last few years (the latest one was in January 2013), and the landlord still hasn’t lost the house. For all I know, he may be involved. I think this entire issue is going continue to get worse because there aren’t enough families in a position to buy this cheap real estate yet, so the investors will continue grabbing everything they can.
    Kim

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