Hartford Residents Rally Against Blighted Property
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE | Courant Staff Writer
July 01, 2008
Rosemarie Easterling is a food services worker for Hartford schools and a monitor for a local bus service company. But the lifelong city resident also became an activist, as she tells it, after seeing vacant lots and buildings around her North End neighborhood looking trashed and becoming a magnet for criminal activity.
"It broke my heart," said Easterling, 53, who spoke at a rally Monday afternoon calling on the city to enforce its anti-blight ordinance on dozens of "problem properties."
About 45 people from community groups across Hartford gathered at the corner of Zion and Hamilton streets chanting, "We are fed up!" Passing traffic and car stereos blasting reggaeton drowned out some of the speakers. Organizers chose the location for its backdrop: a four-story, brown brick building that was gutted in a 2002 fire and has been vacant and in disrepair ever since, despite requests from neighborhood activists over the years that the city take action.
The front door is boarded up and weeds shoot out of cracks in the littered sidewalk. Red tape with the word "Danger" wraps across the front of the building, which has two signs posted: "Private Property No Trespassing" and "Re-Elect Eddie Perez for Mayor."
On Monday, residents added their own handmade signs: "Mayor Perez Enforce the Blight Ordinance" and "This Stinks Clean It Up!"
Shortly after organizers on Friday publicized their intent to hold the rally in front of the 445 Zion St. property, Perez's office issued a press release stating that the building's owner, Mark Getter of Brooklyn, N.Y., had been recently served with an anti-blight notice ordering him to correct building code violations within 30 days or face $100-a-day fines. The city's development services and health and human services departments tried delivering the notice a year ago, the release said, but couldn't confirm his address.
The city is also trying to collect on three years' worth of taxes on the property, which as of July 2 will owe $34,982.30, according to Perez' spokeswoman, Sarah Barr.
"For the first time in a long time there is a hopeful sign," said Gene Mayfield, a speaker representing Hartford Areas Rally Together, the grass-roots group in the city's South End. But, he added, "We've been at this same point before. ... If the mayor's promise is kept, maybe we won't have to look at this sorry building for the next four-plus years."
Easterling — a leader of the Hartford chapter of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — sounded a bit angrier. She believes the record of city politicians on addressing blight and absentee landlord issues has been "truly a slap in the face" and said "we want to see real change right where we live."
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Perez said the city has reduced its number of blighted buildings by 55 percent since 2002, and over the past year has issued 970 notices and 150 citations and imposed more than $43,000 in fines to property owners with building code violations. The mayor also pointed to his five-year, anti-blight plan to invest $50 million in capital funds to clean up neighborhoods and create new housing and businesses.
Watching the rally from a nearby building stoop was Sigfredo Rosario, a 28-year-old bakery worker from the block. "It's good that they're fixing it up," Rosario said of 445 Zion St. His reason was practical: "So people who don't have homes have somewhere to live."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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