In coming weeks, East Ridge News Online will do a series of news stories concerning the city’s housing stock and how private citizens and commercial contractors go about rehabilitating houses and businesses and how it affects the quality of life of the more than 20,000 folks who live here.
In recent months, the issue of condemned, vacant, dilapidated houses and businesses and how to address them has been of critical interest to many citizens. The city, under the auspices of the now-defunct East Ridge Housing and Redevelopment Authority, failed miserably in its mission to fight blight and provide safe and sanitary housing to everyone living in East Ridge. It’s approach of establishing itself under state law for one reason (to provide “safe and sanitary housing”), then changing course to exclusively address commercial property, was a colossal failure, perhaps because of the deep-seated mistrust of many residents of this city.
Last month, more than 20 cases were scheduled before East Ridge’s Administrative Hearing Officer. The AHO, city officials said, hears cases when residential and commercial property owners do not comply with an order by the East Ridge Codes Department to take action on their property, i.e. keep the lawn mowed, keep junk cars and trailers off of property or piling refuse on one’s property.
The City also has a Housing Commission, which hears cases where property owners’ houses or businesses have been condemned and ordered razed.
City officials have said there will be a more concerted effort to enforce the city’s ordinances as it pertains to maintaining one’s property, whether it be residential or commercial. They’ve got their work cut out for them, as one official has stated that as much as 30 percent of the homes or businesses in the city are not in compliance with a myriad of regulations.
My family lives on Marlboro Avenue. It’s a great neighborhood and I am very well acquainted with most of my neighbors who take a great deal of pride in their modest homes. Several homes on our street have sold in recent years and the new owners have done or are doing a wonderful job rehabbing the structures that were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
However, our street, like virtually every other street in the city, is not without its problems.
I’ve got neighbors who don’t have the resources to make basic, much-needed improvements to their homes. Some turn a blind eye when it comes to upkeep on their yards. In recent months on my street, I’ve noticed signs posted by codes enforcement to clean up yards. It’s a step in the right direction.
One abandoned house on the street was used by down-and-out dopers as party central. The cops made numerous trips there to run them out. The house was sold and the new owner sunk untold amounts of money in it during renovation. I walk by it ever day, and after about a year, it’s now nearing completion and someone is going to have a nice place to hang their hat – whether it be new tenants or a young family that buys it outright.
Another house is a completely different story. I’ve discovered it was bought in June of 2016. Work was begun and then stopped. Nothing done in months and months and months. A cursory review of records at the Hamilton County Assessor’s office show the man who bought this house has 26 separate houses or properties that he owns, many in East Ridge. A number of the 26 properties that he owns were purchased at about the same time he bought this house on Marlboro Avenue.
Across from my house on Worsham Street is a tract of land that is bisected by a drainage ditch, something designated as a “blue line” on many official maps of Hamilton County. Several years ago when the owner proposed building two duplexes on the property, I was told that the property wasn’t suitable for building, largely because of its irregular shape and the fact that a major drainage ditch ran through it. The East Ridge Planning Commission rejected the owner’s plan.
Fast forward a couple years and the same guy wants to build two private homes on the property. He came in last fall and chopped down the trees, cleared the land and burned the brush. The City of East Ridge shut him down on burning. He had a permit to clear the property. He recently submitted an engineer’s report and plans to shore up the drainage ditch and build a bridge across it to access one of the lots. No building plans have been submitted to the city as of last week.
So, where there was once a little bit of woods there is now a gouged-out, eroding drainage ditch, construction debris and a pile of gravel.
I don’t know if my street is any different from any other street in East Ridge. I suspect that it is not.
I’m going to attempt to make sense of how all this codes stuff is supposed to work and how it protects homeowners … or maybe how it doesn’t.
If you are reading this and you have a story – whether it be one of abuse or success – I’m asking you to reach out and e-mail me. I’d like to hear about it and maybe we can all understand how Codes Enforcement, the Housing Commission and the Administrative Hearing Officer can help make our city a better place.