You have probably heard the old saying, “What is it called when you do the same thing over and over expecting different results? Insanity!” I believe this perfectly describes the community’s approach to addressing the condition of residential properties in St. Joseph, especially rental housing. Are we to assume if we keep doing what we are doing now, which is virtually nothing, that somehow the residential housing in our older neighborhoods is going to get better? Not likely.
So, what can we do to improve our older neighborhoods and restore pride in these historic areas of St. Joseph? Certainly, we can focus on assisting those who wish to purchase an older home and restore it through grants that are currently offered by the city. We can work to secure or demolish dilapidated structures that are hazardous, as the city does now. We can expand the efforts of code enforcement to enforce property maintenance codes to encourage property owners to keep their property in good condition. Much of this is already being done and still we are losing the battle of neighborhood revitalization.
Of course, there is another idea that the City Council is currently discussing, creating a rental occupancy permit that would require a home to pass an inspection in order to be rented. The inspection would focus on basic safety in livability issues. A smoke detector, working plumbing, no exposed wiring, the roof does not leak, no debris in the yard, no broken-out windows, etc.… simply, a determination that the home is fit for people to live in.
So why do this? First, all people in our community should have the right to live in safe and decent housing. Second, those who own rental housing are operating a business, taking money and providing a service, and should be held responsible for their properties. Fortunately, most landlords are responsible. But in addition, a rental occupancy program will begin a process of improving and cleaning up rental property that is not being maintained. The result, better rental housing, cleaner neighborhoods, more interest by individuals to own homes in these neighborhoods, and a restored sense of pride. Can it happen? You bet it can. It has happened across the country in thousands of communities. I have witnessed it myself.
Sure, it’s easy to keep doing the same thing but, I believe it’s time St. Joseph begins doing things that are not easy, perhaps even hard. St. Joseph needs to be better and addressing the integrity and rehabilitation of our old neighborhoods is a big part of being a better community.
Let’s join the ranks of the sane and do something different and not easy and clean up our older neighborhoods and rehabilitate our historic houses. A rental occupancy inspection program is a good place to start.
R. Patt Lilly, President & CEO, St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce