Wake up, local communities! Your solution to every community need seems to be "go slow, don't rock the boat, and wait for someone else to fix it." The meaning of the 2016 election is no one else will help you and the natives are restless. Focusing on shiny objects to amuse the tourists is not a solution. Communities are not eye candy, they are places where people live and work. Calling on the residents' strengths to enable them to overcome the community's weaknesses is the equation for success.
James Arentson, in NextCity writes: "The first and most important step is ongoing dialog, a cross-sector exchange of ideas from government officials, business people and residents alike. This kind of genuine, honest, communication happened more organically prior to the 21st century, but today we need to be more intentional about it. We can’t rely solely on surveys and statistics."
Cleveland's un-policy about the tragedy of lead poisoning is a classic example of go-slow-ism. But Mayor Jackson's unfortunate remark that code enforcement would make three-quarters of the residents homeless is not just wrong, it's insulting to landlords and tenants. Where's that community dialogue on housing needs and solutions? Mayoral aide Natoya Walker-Minor told a City Club audience last October that the problem was "intersectionality." Sorry Ms. Walker-Minor. The problem is poisoned babies. Mr. Mayor, don't let the moral dilemma keep you up at night, share it with your community. Here are the choices: "lead, follow, or get out of the way".
Tenants and their advocates don't get off the hook either. Tenants rightfully fear retaliation if they complain about unsafe conditions, but making a change is possible. Advocates can help by demanding legal representation for tenants who are willing to complain. Private attorneys generally avoid representing tenants because there's no money is a retaliation claim. That creates a vicious cycle. No retaliation claims, no judgements with attorney fees and so the tenants hare defenseless and "the community" concludes that "everything is OK" or that "tenants choose to rent sh*tholes."
The failure to protect the youngest citizens is not about bad landlords, bad tenants or bad leaders. The problem is bad policies resulting from civic lethargy.
Bad things might happen if we enforce standards. Bad things are happening now. If code enforcement has some side effects, then fix them! No one throws away life saving medicine because of bad side effects. In 19th century New York, the landlords lobby was convinced that requiring a window in every room of a tenement building would create an economic collapse.'
Inspection won't fix everything, so why bother? Lead safe housing won't prevent every case of poisoning. It won't address lead in water. But it's a start.
The City needs to inspect every property for every health and safety violation. Targeting inspections on the highest risk properties will provide the greatest outcomes in the shortest time. Expect voluntary compliance from sensible landlords and go after the bad actors aggressively. If tenants get displaced from the "sh*tholes," at least there will be a lead safe house nearby.
It's someone else's problem. This is an especially pernicious attitude because it really means it's not my problem. Satirist author Douglas Adams imagined the ultimate "invisibility" device which he called: SEP (Someone Else's Problem). As soon as the SEP was turned on, no one could see the spaceship in front of them. Because everyone pays the cost of lead poisoning, it's everyone's problem.
Sensible code enforcement that protects and respects families who have few rental choices honors the needs of the citizens and not the interests of the tourists who are drawn by a museum, a nightclub, a casino or a chandelier.
December 5, 2016. Ron O'Leary Presentation to Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance
Passage of the income tax increase will permit increased staffing for permitting and inspection of new costruction and substantial rehab. Increased "code enforcement" AKA lawyers to bring cases to court and multifamily rental ispection program.
City has looked at many programs around the country in order to find a model that will work. Implied that this planning process is on-going.
There will be a slow roll out, estimates 1.5 years to get fully staffed. The new program will "start" April 1, 2017 but "start" means start looking for staff and building support systems.
Goal would be to have an inspection of every rental unit (not just a sample) every 5 years.
As far as lead is concerned city will conduct a visual inspection and if there are presumptive lead hazards will require landlord to remediate using lead safe practices and submit a lead clearance test to show that the work was complete. City will not do clearance testing. "That's up to the landlord."
One challenge for Cleveland is that every other city they looked at already has a robust code enforcement system and landlords are accustomed to inspections. For Cleveland there will be a need to encourage landlords to cooperate. An outreach plan is under consideration. I asked about the department's experience with landlord cooperation based on the lack of response to the initial rental registration program. Mr. O'Leary said the problem there was due to a lack of communication and follow through.
Another problem will be finding and training people to become inspectors. Mr. O'Leary asked that if anyone in the room knew of people with a construction background to refer them to him right now.
In response to a question, Mr. O'Leary noted that the city has never prosecuted a landlord for failure to register a property as required by law. He noted that they had been getting copies of the eviction court filings and comparing filings with registrations, but that the data has become sporadic and he implied that they don't currently have the staff to do the follow ups where an owner was not registered. Phil Star suggested a system where, if a property was not registered, the court could not grant an eviction. Mr. O'Leary said that would not be legal for the City to make a law like that.
September 11, 2016What could a Lead Czar do?
After reading Richey Piiparinen's Op/ed in the Plain Dealer today, I got to wondering how many lead safe homes (built after 1978 when lead was banned from paint, were demolished in the campaign to create vacant lots in Ohio's neighborhoods. Mr. Piiparinen makes the point in his article that these housing could have made Cleveland a haven for folks looking for affordable rents, but even more important, they could have been replacement housing for families of children poisoned in pre-1978 units. In a related story, Toledo's land bank is offering fixer-upper houses for sale to the public now that the demand is returning. Is the land bank disclosing known lead hazards? Is the health department checking to see if poisoned homes are coming back on the market? See, this could be why Cleveland, Toledo and Ohio need Lead Czars to help identify synergies among health and housing programs that could help remove lead from the urban environment.
"The city of Cleveland is studying Toledo's law and others like it, Cleveland officials told Plain Dealer reporters Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner. But study time should be over. Cleveland needs to follow Toledo's example and require landlords to make rental units "lead safe" before families move in. Lead testing is crucial because it's the only way to measure lead hot spots in the home." posted August 31, 2016 \