Activists push officials to wield a new anti-blight ordinance
September 18, 2008
A small, but determined group of Hartford residents gathered on the corner of Garden and Mather streets in the North End last Thursday for a walking tour of blighted buildings in the neighborhood, and to continue to press city officials to do more to fight blight.
"This is my neighborhood and it upsets me to see how the North End has deteriorated and no one is paying attention," said Sharon Patterson-Stallings. "Everything is gone."
Patterson-Stallings said she was born at 54 Pliny St., about a block from the corner of Garden and Mather, and just across the street from a decrepit house featured on the tour, with makeshift scaffolding left over from aborted renovations, and a yard full of weeds and trash.
"I hope we're not touring this area just for the exercise," added Bea Powell, chairwoman of the Clay-Arsenal Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. "Please do not turn a deaf ear to us."
Powell's plea may have been intended for the city officials in attendance: Ben Bare, assistant corporation counsel; Martha Page, head of the environmental health division of the Department of Health and Human Services; and Gus Espinoza, senior project manager for the Department of Development Services.
Four Hartford nonprofits — HART (Hartford Areas Rally Together), Hartford 2000, Hartford Preservation Alliance, and Northend United ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) — organized the tour.
Blight activists met on Sept. 3 with Mayor Eddie Perez , Corporation Counsel John Rose and other officials to ask for a new, amped-up blight ordinance passed in June to be used on six properties in addition to 445 Zion Ave. — the only property cited so far. The city agreed, and the two sides will meet again in 45 days for a progress report.
Gene Mayfield of HART pointed out on last week's tour the city announced it was moving on the Zion property just hours after activists made it into a poster-child for deterioration, holding a press conference in front of the abandoned, boarded-up building.
"We're not going to stop, and at this point we've been playing the game for a long time," said Mayfield. Coincidentally, the day after the most recent blight tour, the city announced public hearings in October for draft plans to address blight in the downtown area.
At the heart of the tension between activists and city officials is what the activists see as reluctance to use the anti-blight ordinance in favor of the citation process, which allows city inspectors to impose fines of up to $99 daily.
Espinoza says the citation process is "easier to wield" than the more formalized anti-blight ordinance, giving inspectors a "hammer" they didn't have before the process was approved last year. The city issued 150 citations from April 2007 to February 2008 and had an 80 percent compliance rate, according to Espinoza.
"The inspectors haven't been shy," said Page. "They haven't been trigger happy but they haven't been shy about (giving citations)."
Yet there are only four inspectors in the departments of Health and Development Services. Neither Espinoza nor Page would say four wasn't enough.