SAFER AND CLEANER NEIGHBORHOODS
Nothing affects our day-to-day lives more than our homes and neighborhoods. It’s where we raise our families and find a bit of solace from the outside world. For most people their home represents their largest investment and asset. For those reasons, I consider the safety and quality of our neighborhoods to be of utmost importance. As your Councilmember representing Ward 2, one of my goals will be to work to bring up the quality of our neighborhoods for the safety, enjoyment, and financial betterment of all.
You’ve probably heard the expression “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” or “it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.” These sayings are especially true when it comes to neighborhoods. The desirability and property values within a neighborhood can be significantly degraded by a small handful of poorly-maintained homes. A single dilapidated home can have a negative effect on a whole neighborhood.
The City of Bakersfield’s Code Enforcement Division holds the responsibility to make sure that City codes regarding housing conditions and maintenance are abided by. As you can probably imagine, it’s a huge task and with only so many resources available. In some areas it may seem as though they’re fighting a losing battle. My approach is to employ strategies that will yield maximum results and provide sustainable solutions. Below are ways I would propose to do this.
Abandoned Home Registration Program
While the home foreclosure crisis of a few years ago has subsided, the problem is far from over. The home-buying website Zillow reports that there are more than 700 foreclosed homes currently on the market in Bakersfield. Those numbers do not include the many other homes that are in some other stage of foreclosure or are otherwise abandoned. The complications and difficulty in making sure these homes do not become dilapidated are great, and the potential for these homes to cause problems and degrade a neighborhood is even greater.
Abandoned homes are often neglected and left unsecured. The fact that they are often unsightly can be the least of the problems. They can and do attract vagrants and transients, harbor pests and vermin, become fire hazards and arson targets, and attract crime and drug activity. These are not the type of conditions that anyone would want to see in their neighborhood.
The City of Bakersfield currently does have an informal program to track and periodically check homes that are known to be abandoned. When necessary, windows and doors are boarded up and any “squatters” that are found are removed. With current City ordinances, unfortunately there is not too much more that can be done. That is why I would propose a new ordinance to do more, and specifically hold the parties that are legally responsible (most commonly the financial institutions holding the title) to keep the property properly maintained while it is unoccupied or face stiff fines if they do not.
Many cities have taken the pro-active approach of adopting an Abandoned Home Registration Ordinance. The ordinance would have the capability of addressing potential problems before they turn into them. There are many variations of such a program and I would seek to develop one that is right for Bakersfield. Essentially, the program would require foreclosed and abandoned homes to be registered by the holder of the deed of trust, require the payment of fees to cover City costs to administer the program, require monthly inspections of the property by the responsible party, and require that it be maintained according to specified standards. If the requirements of the ordinance are not complied with, appropriate fines can be instituted.
A program like this won’t solve all the problems, but it has the ability to put a big dent in them and demonstrably lessen the impact that abandoned homes have on our neighborhoods. And with the fees attached to the program, it can be done at little cost to the City itself…definitely a win/win for everyone except those that are inclined to neglect their responsibilities for their own financial convenience.
Neighborhood Improvement Program
Abandoned homes can definitely create problems, but improving the overall appearance and condition of neighborhoods in need is also a concern. In this case, however, the goal is not to simply legislate standards and enforcement, but rather for the City to play an active role in encouraging and providing the tools and resources for neighborhoods to make themselves better. Most everyone wants to live in a safe and attractive neighborhood. For many residents of declining neighborhoods, it’s not that they don’t want to improve conditions, it may be that they lack the resources to do it and also because they can’t do it alone.
Again, the City does not have the luxury of sufficient resources to fund large-scale improvement programs in every neighborhood in need. But it is also too important of an issue to simply dismiss because of a lack of resources. And once again, I would propose to leverage the resources and manpower that are available for the maximum benefit and result. The City can strategically devote available federal and state grant funds to assist, particularly in improving the public realm (streets, sidewalks, street lights, etc.). Beyond this, though, the City and the City Council can exhibit the leadership to forge partnerships and coalitions with community organizations, churches, and others to do what it takes to bring about improvements to both the physical and social conditions of neighborhoods in need.
When neighborhoods improve, everybody wins. It makes for a better and healthier quality of life for residents, it raises property values, and it can even reduce crime and lessen the need for and cost of public safety services. It’s a big challenge, but something that shouldn’t be shied away from just because it is. As your Ward 2 Councilmember on this and other important issues, I pledge to work on your behalf and demonstrate the innovativeness and leadership to make Bakersfield the best it can possibly be.