Vacant and Abandoned Housing

The Neighborhoods Need Our Us!
         The recent revelation that there are nearly 500 vacant and abandoned houses in many  parts of  Grand Rapids is evidence that our city administration has misplaced priorities related to housing in our neighborhoods and the role that residents can effectively play in partnering with the City.
    The City Housing Department has become overwhelmed, and forced to re-evaluate their process of dealing with vacant and abandoned houses after exposure and pressure from the Grand Rapids Press.
    It has been clear to me and my neighbors that the City is lax in its process of vigorously pursuing the repair of many properties in our area and in many other Grand Rapids neighborhoods.  It is also clear to us that the City doesn't recognize the importance of a partnership role some neighborhood residents presently play in helping to control housing  problems, and the potential for expanding that partnership.
     First, the housing code enforcement system needs to be analyzed to find out why it has been failing and what needs to be done to make it effective again.  It appears that this first step may be happening now. 
     Second, the City should redesign how they relate to neighborhood residents.  Residents should be recognized more as potential supportive partners with the City. The City should encourage more neighbors to take some responsibility for homes on their block that are vacant and have been abandoned.  With the City's encouragement and support,  more neighbors could do some maintenance of the yards and report any threats to the security of the property.  Residents who are willing to help in this way should be offered some legal protection and financial reimbursement for minor yard maintenance and cosmetic exterior repairs done while the City is pursuing a more permanent solution.  Absent property owners who can be found, should be made to fulfill their ownership responsibilities.
     Some assertive neighbors on my block and one near me have done these things,  with very positive results.  The frustrating part for the neighbors is that it too often takes several years for the City to get control of the property or force the owner to be responsible.
  When the City Housing Code Enforcement Department  (456-3053)  fulfills their responsibility in a timely manner and neighbors partner with the City, other residents are encouraged to  maintain their property.  Potential home owners and investors view a  vacant house that is watched by neighbors and not vandalized as one that is worth investing in and the block as one worth living on.
We must demand that our city government do its job well.  We must be involved in our government and in our neighborhoods to achieve a better community.

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