Mayor Parker has proposed a new city department to combat the problem of blight.
“We for years have said that we’re a city of neighborhoods and we care about neighborhoods. Well, budgets don’t lie. And we have shortchanged neighborhoods,” Parker said.
The new department would not get more money than already is spent on its component parts, but it would bring together the city employees already doing the block-by-block work on quality-of-life issues. The idea is that with the offices combined into one department, it can do more with the same amount of stretched city dollars, reduced duplication, better communication and coordination from above.
The focus of the new department, Parker said, will be solving problems, not just issuing citations.
“Sometimes the person whose property that is the target is somebody who just doesn’t care. Sometimes the property is owned by somebody who just doesn’t know. And sometimes it’s owned by somebody who is not any longer capable of doing what they need to do in order to be a good neighbor,” Parker said.
By having the office that handles citizen complaints in regular communication with the neighborhood services team that writes up violators, the city can figure out which kind of case it has on its hands and respond appropriately.
The new department, called the Department of Neighborhood Protection, combines several different offices along with Inspections and Public Service; making it a department moves it up in the city’s hierarchy. The sidebar on the story lists all of the components to this:
DEPARTMENT OF NEIGHBORHOOD PROTECTION
The mayor proposes a new city department formed by putting the following existing offices under one umbrella:
• Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office
• Citizens’ Assistance Office
• Office of Education Initiatives
• Office for People with Disabilities
• Inspections and Public Service (formerly Neighborhood Protection )
• Office of Immigration & Refugee Affairs
• Volunteer Initiatives Program
This was approved by Council on Wednesday. I don’t know how much difference it will make – the Mayor has high expectations – but it seems like a good idea and worth a try. The Mayor is right that not all derelict properties are the same, so having better communication among the offices that can deal with the causes of dereliction makes sense.
On the other hand, this may mean that nothing much changes:
Last month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Dallas vs. Stewart that the owner of a demolished structure can sue for compensation even if that demolition occurred after a proper hearing of a city administrative body. Prior to the ruling, courts were precluded from awarding compensation if they found the city had a reasonable basis for declaring a structure a public nuisance before ordering its demolition.
The case potentially tips the balance that cities try to achieve between the rights of individual property owners and the rights of the communities in which their property is located.
“We know that private property rights are involved in something like this. What we want to be sure (of) is what we’re protecting are the community rights, so evil things don’t go on on properties and really end up deteriorating an entire neighborhood,” said Andy Icken, Houston’s chief development officer.
I don’t have enough information about the Supreme Court case to evaluate this. On its face it seems like a stretch, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. I hope cities aren’t too deterred by this, because demolition of derelict properties is an important tool in their arsenal. We’ll just have to see what the effect is.