Fighting blight

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:

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.

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4 Responses to Fighting blight

  1. Karl Ittmann says:

    I have to say that I find this initiative ironic at best and at worst a cynical attempt to grab an issue that the Mayor routinely ignores. If she is so concerned about neighborhoods, she could have been far more aggressive in dealing with the Walmart development that threatens to degrade the quality of life for those of us who live in the Heights and surrounding areas. The difference in her response compared to her deadset stance against Ashby High Rise has disillusioned many of us who had hoped for better. Even worse is her unwillingness to listen to citizen input as evidenced by her dismissive attitude following Monday’s Heights Association meeting and the serial comments of her senior staff. If there were a viable alternative I would both vote for that person and contribute to their campaign. Since there isn’t I’ll be voting “none of the above”.

  2. joshua bullard says:

    the problem with the “heights neiborhood”has always been routine,sometimes they want to be apart of the city of houston,sometimes not,and this isnt the function of any neiborhood in this city.we need you either on board or not,if you notice,when times get tough and the road begins to get a little bumpy,the first neiborhood to come crying “foul”is the heights,always has been and i hope, wont always will be.listen to me,i dont know how long people should have to go buying a bag of socks for 8$ when they could get them at walmart for 3$,its a shame it took this long to get a walmart where its needed to be for years,mayor parker is praised for adding affordability to the innerloop houston,all of houston for that matter and creating jobs in a tough for the heights,there just like canadians-there always talking rubbish about the monarchy,how there so upset with the queen of england-untill they get an in person visit from her,then there popping bottles and smilling with glee,talking about how great she is.well heights,from me to you”put a sock in it” respectfully submitted joshua ben bullard.

  3. Ross says:

    There’s a big difference between the WalMart and abandoned houses. There’s little legal basis for opposing the WalMart – it’s a new development that meets all of the current code requirements. It’s not a hazard, it’s not blighted, and despite the tremulous mewlings of the opponents, it’s not going to destroy the Heights. Abandoned houses are a menace to the neighbors by providing a haven for vermin (of the animal type), attract vagrants and criminals, and pose a threat to children and other who happen to wander into them. If I were running the City, I would argue that the demolitions increase the property values, so there are no damages to sue for.

  4. Claude Foster says:

    Consolidation and elimination of services is always more effective and provides for a more coordinated efforts to address problems. The mayor is to be commended for trying to eliminate duplication and streamline operations to deal with a serious problem, especially when it comes to older and more established neighborhoods. However, in my opinion, the problem is that Houston lacks effective zoning and planning regulations. Deed restrictions in lieu of effective zoning and enforcement do not protect older and established neighborhoods. When you look at older neighborhoods and see the kind of 2nd and 3rd tier developments that creep into older neighborhoods that detract from the attractiveness and quality of life of the residents who reside there. Just look at the establishments; tire shops, recylcing centers, lack of first tier resturants and supermarkets, etc., that are part of the landscape of older neighborhoods–I swear you would think you were in a third world country rather than in Houston, Texas. Deed restrictions are supposed to cover such issues as where residents can park their vehicles, the color they can paint their homes, and the type of shingles a person can put on their roofs. Civic Associations in these struggling neighborhoods do not have the resources since, unlike Homeowner Associations in the suburs, where dues are mandatory, alowing Homeowner Associations to hire lawyers to enforce community standards, membership and dues in Civic Associations are voluntary, requiring greater enforcement of community standards by city government. People who live in the suburbs should not benefit while residents of older neighborhoods without proper and effective zoning must live with changes wrought by market forces. Being the fourth/third largest city in American, I believe we can and should do better!

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