Striving to improve housing conditions for this city’s have-nots, elected officials will consider bolstering code enforcement and finally writing a stern slumlord ordinance that has languished for 10 months.
Responding to rundown housing conditions detailed recently in The Times, City Councilwoman Judy Lazar on Tuesday will ask her colleagues to approve a trial program to target certain blighted neighborhoods for aggressive code enforcement.
On a rotating basis, neighborhoods with old and neglected houses or apartments would receive extra code-enforcement attention for six months at a time. Under current law, code-enforcement officers only respond to complaints.
“In the target areas, we would let property owners know if there is a potential problem and we’ll tell them about possible solutions,” including the availability of low-interest housing rehabilitation loans from the city, Lazar said. “I think we need to give it a try.”
Councilwoman Elois Zeanah said she deplored the housing conditions depicted in a newspaper article Sunday, and would support any effort to boost the enforcement of existing housing laws.
“I have been an advocate for proactive code enforcement since before I was elected in 1990,” she said. “But I’ve never been able to get majority council support for the idea. If anyone who has not supported proactive enforcement in the past is willing to get on board, I welcome that.”
Since the early 1990s, the city has occasionally honed in on neglected neighborhoods with extra code enforcement.
But zealous code enforcement citywide would require adding to the city’s staff of five code-enforcement officers. That could be a waste of taxpayer money, Lazar said, because newer developments do not suffer from the same problems found in older neighborhoods.
In a related effort, Councilman Andy Fox will ask that the city draft within one month a slumlord ordinance that would fine property owners who repeatedly endanger residents’ health and safety. The council endorsed the idea last May, but the law has not been written because a new deputy city attorney has not been hired yet.
Instead of writing another law, Zeanah suggested that an existing law, which allows the city to recover costs associated with bringing properties up to code, should be more vigorously pursued.
The flurry of council activity follows an article detailing the problems with four properties in the city’s Old Town. Populated by the working poor, the houses suffer from mouse infestations, feral cats, plumbing problems and piles of debris taller than some of the adults who live there. The landlords have previously said they were unaware of any unsafe or illegal conditions at the houses, which they said could have been caused by tenants.
The people who own those homes--built in the 1940s--also own a nearby lot that was essentially a squatter’s village last year. Before city officials cracked down on the shantytown, occupying less than an acre not far from City Hall, it was home to about 50 people, many of them living in tool sheds and shacks with jury-rigged wiring. That property has since been fixed at a cost of about $50,000, according to Todd Silver, the son of landlords Joy and Al Silver of Westlake Village.
City code-compliance officers say the more recent code violations are not as severe as the shantytown, but are a cause for concern nonetheless. They expect to meet with the property owners within a week or so to outline the violations and request repairs.
“It just seems a crime, when the standards in this community are so high about everything else--quality of life, schools, crime-fighting--that housing is falling behind,” said Dan Hardy, executive director of the affordable housing group Many Mansions. “It seems a shame that this is dragging us down.”
In another stab at addressing deteriorating houses and apartments, Lazar suggested the city adopt an overall strategy for addressing so-called “distressed housing.”
She proposed that the recently resurrected Housing Issues Committee should take several steps. Among them, she suggested, would be to look at how other cities handle code enforcement and review an apartment survey to determine what properties are blighted enough to require city attention.
The committee also should review incentives the city can offer to encourage rehabilitation, and work with Many Mansions to acquire foreclosed properties, Lazar said. The committee would forward its suggestions to the City Council, she said.
Many Mansions’ Hardy said his group has been approached by Todd Silver about possibly working together to improve the four problem properties in the Old Town neighborhood.
“I’ll be polling the council to see what they want there,” Hardy said. “We could either tear down the housing and put in condos or apartments or we can rehabilitate the existing housing. I would like to see affordable housing no matter which way you go because the people who live there now are poor and need housing.”