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Monday, August 6, 2007

Trenton Rising pushes for more housing inspections

The Trenton Rising group met at the New Jersey State House Annex Saturday for the second round of discussions on the unsatisfactory state of Trenton and its government.

The first meeting had been an introduction of sorts, with city activists gathering together and voicing varied concerns with the condition of the city, and coming to a consensus that the problem was emanating from the dysfunctional government situated at 319 E. State Street.

Residents attending Saturday's meeting concentrated on discussions about the state of the city's housing and tenant-landlord relations.

Trenton Rising officials threw their official support behind a proposed City Code revision-ordinance that would increase the frequency of housing inspections from a paltry once every five years to at least a minimum annual inspection.

South Ward Councilman James H. Coston had previously introduced the ordinance only to be shot down by members of the "rubber stamp" portion of the council who said the body should wait for a presentation about inspection department overhauls being undertaken by the Mayor Douglas H. Palmer administration.

Trenton Rising officials said they hope to get that legislation back on the table in City Council.

"The consensus was that we need more inspections, and in addition to that, we shouldn't be forced to do the job of the inspectors getting paid city dollars to perform these duties," said Trenton Rising organizer Paul Harris.

Trenton Rising members also plan on reviewing housing codes, and creating a quick checklist for residents to use when inspecting their dwellings.

The group hopes this will allow residents to have better knowledge about their rights as tenants and force landlords - many of them absentee "slumlords" - into taking better care of Trenton's housing stock.

Some audience members had voiced concern when Mr. Harris had produced a preliminary inspection checklist, saying the document could cause trouble for the group if it contained incorrect information about housing code.

Mr. Harris and other Trenton Rising officials have responded by making a statement that they would conduct careful research and come up with a carefully created document reflecting true housing code law.


Taneshia said...

This is an issue that is near and dear to me having spent my childhood in substandard rental housing (in NY suburb) owned by a couple of slumlords. I admit that I haven't followed the Trenton Rising inspection issue in City Council closely, but from my job's perspective I would be concerned about how any proposed inspections plan -- by your group or by the administration -- would affect those building in Trenton. I know from working with commercial property owners and tenants downtown that obtaining building permits and then the required inspections for occupancy is already an arduous process so I'm curious about how your proposed overhaul takes into account all of the functions of the Department of Inspections. I hope you agree that the other functions are as important to the city's economic development (new businesses opening means new jobs) as the cause you're advancing is to the quality of life for some of our most vulnerable residents - those living below poverty level with no other options.

Greg Forester said...

Although I obviously care deeply about economic development in Trenton, I believe getting landlords to better maintain their housing and providing residents with a better quality of life is also a very important issue.

Some neighborhoods that were once economically viable are now destroyed because of slum landlords taking over, renting to criminals, driving out good folks with disposable income through block-busting and fear tactics, and finally destroying significant buying power within the city limits.

These landlords also represent a funnel of money leaving town for faraway places, going to people who don't care about the city and just want to make a quick buck.

I have heard stories about houses on Walnut Avenue with the sewage and hot water lines crossed, giving residents steaming hot water in their toilets and shower water that is unfit for a pig to bathe in.

All this happens because the money-grubbing landlord doesn't want to pay a contractor the money to fix the water system in the home.

If these neighborhoods were still viable, then residents in them would still be traveling downtown and purchasing things instead of living at or below the poverty line with no disposable income.

In addition these same poverty-filled neighborhoods are stuck in an ever-worsening job vacuum.

I may be simplifying the issue a little bit, but I think if you think about every little effect something might have, especially on groups of small stakeholders, nothing will ever get done and Trenton will stay the way it is.

We need action, and it starts in the neighborhoods - and the homes - that hold the human fabric of Trenton.