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Some homes in Decatur's older neighborhoods, like this one in the 1900 block of Seventh Street Southeast, appear to violate weed, junk and litter ordinances.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Some homes in Decatur's older neighborhoods, like this one in the 1900 block of Seventh Street Southeast, appear to violate weed, junk and litter ordinances.

Blight vs.
civil rights

Neighborhood meeting filled with weed, junk, litter concerns

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Abating blights in neighborhoods without violating property owners' civil rights dominated concerns among Decatur residents and city leaders at Tuesday night's District 2 community meeting.

Some residents called for the city to make its codes more stringent to rid Decatur of lawn-killing automobiles that are driving down property values in the city's older neighborhoods.

Others among the 52 residents who attended the meeting at Central United Methodist Church simply wanted to see better enforcement from the city's Community Development Department of existing weed, junk and litter ordinances.

"The problem I've seen on Sherman Street in the 20 years I've lived there is not that the Community Development Department is not being responsive," Sally Smartt said. "It's that some people know how to beat the system and know just enough to get by. Is there not something that can be done with repeat offenders?"

Michelle Jordan, director of Community Development, said her department's six code-enforcement officers wrote 3,600 citations for violations of the weed, junk and litter ordinance last year and have issued 780 this year.

"Ninety percent of the 3,600 cases were corrected just with that letter," said Jordan of when the city first becomes involved. "Ten percent we deal with on a regular basis."

Police Chief Ken Collier, who introduced 15 members of his command staff to residents, said the city is looking at ordinances from other municipalities to help with blight issues here without violating property owners' civil rights.

"Decay and blight creates crime," Collier said. "We've learned that in other cities, and we've learned that here. We want to be a part of fixing any neighborhood that is deteriorating ... so people who live there don't feel neglected or ignored. That's precisely what crime feeds on. It affects us throughout the entire city."

Councilman David Bolding, who represents the district, said the city staffed two additional code enforcement officers in Community Development within the past two years.

When asked if six enforcement officers was enough to adequately address blight issues, Jordan said nearly every city department could use more help.

Fourteen months ago, the City Council eliminated 35 filled and unfilled position to tighten the city's budget.

"We wanted to do more with less," Bolding said. "It's the analogy of one guy with a shovel working on a ditch with five other (employees) standing around watching. There's got to be a process. Community Development got two employees, and we looked at the number of citations they were writing per year. That's how we determine the number of employees."

Jordan said her department is proactive in searching for violations.

The Daily, however, spent 10 minutes Tuesday driving through Bolding's district and found three homes that appeared to violate anti-blight laws, including one home that may have violated each of the weed, junk and litter categories at once.

Residents of a Decatur housing project at East Acres said a home in the 1900 block of Seventh Street Southeast has been sold recently and has been vacant for at least a year.

A used automobile tire, litter, tall grass and weeds greet passersby at a home with no posted address, which is next door to 1907 Seventh St. S.E.

Living Homes Real Estate has a "sold" sign in the yard. The Daily contacted one of the numbers on the sign and spoke with Ramona, who didn't give her last name. She said her husband sold the property but wouldn't reveal to whom.

Ramona said the firm hired a man to care for the property, but he has cancer and is receiving testing. They hired him, she said, because he needed the work, but they didn't want to overburden the man. She refused to give the man's name.

Ramona also said the city has many empty homes that go through an interim period of time before they're sold, and that blight associated with those vacant properties is a common problem.

Mayor Don Kyle said the city has a few property managers that the Community Development Department knows well.

"I think there are a number of property managers that have to keep up with a large number of tenants," Kyle said as he left the community meeting. "I don't think it's an overwhelming number in the community."

Kyle said he had not heard of the Living Homes firm, and that it was not one of the community development frequent violators.

"Ten percent we deal with on a regular basis."

Looking at other cities

Police Chief Ken Collier, who introduced 15 members of his command staff to residents, said the city is looking at ordinances from other municipalities to help with blight issues here without violating property owners' civil rights.

"Decay and blight creates crime," Collier said. "We've learned that in other cities, and we've learned that here. We want to be a part of fixing any neighborhood that is deteriorating ... so people who live there don't feel neglected or ignored. That's precisely what crime feeds on. It affects us throughout the entire city."

Councilman David Bolding, who represents the district, said the city staffed two additional code enforcement officers in Community Development within the past two years.

When asked if six enforcement officers are enough to adequately address blight issues, Jordan said nearly every city department could use more help.

Fourteen months ago, the City Council eliminated 35 filled and unfilled positions to tighten the city's budget.

"We wanted to do more with less," Bolding said. "It's the analogy of one guy with a shovel working on a ditch with five other (employees) standing around watching. There's got to be a process. Community Development got two employees, and we looked at the number of citations they were writing per year. That's how we determine the number of employees."

Searching for violations?

Jordan said her department is proactive in searching for violations.

The Daily, however, spent 10 minutes Tuesday driving through Bolding's district and found three homes that appeared to violate anti-blight laws, including one home that may have violated each of the weed, junk and litter categories at once.

Residents of a Decatur housing project at East Acres said a home in the 1900 block of Seventh Street Southeast has been sold recently and has been vacant for at least a year.

A used automobile tire, litter, tall grass and weeds greet passersby at a home with no posted address, which is next door to 1907 Seventh St. S.E.

Living Homes Real Estate has a "sold" sign in the yard. The Daily contacted one of the numbers on the sign and spoke with Ramona, who didn't give her last name. She said her husband sold the property but wouldn't reveal to whom.

She said the firm hired a man to care for the property, but he has cancer and is receiving testing.

They hired him, she said, because he needed the work, but they didn't want to overburden the man. She also said the city has many empty homes that go through an interim period of time before they're sold, and that blight associated with those vacant properties is a common problem.

Mayor Don Kyle said the city has a few property managers that the Community Development Department knows well.

"I think there are a number of property managers that have to keep up with a large number of tenants," Kyle said as he left the community meeting.

"I don't think it's an overwhelming number in the community."

Kyle said he had not heard of the Living Homes firm, and that it was not one of the community development problem agencies.

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