It is no coincidence that there are few seeds of hope if you live on a street where vacant houses are being dismantled by raccoons, scrap-metal poachers, meth squatters and other vermin. Or where occupied houses have broken windows and porches that are falling down.
The Urban League Fort Wayne Community Action Plan Against Violence 2013 says residents need access to legal remedies and ways to get incremental neighborhood improvements, increase community spirit and build support for future residential action.
The city has programs in place that will help. And residents need to use them to help their blocks or neighborhoods.
For example, John Urbahns, director of Community Development for the city, says the process to report and get action on neighborhood problems has been streamlined in recent years with the 311 call center.
The weed program has ended for the season, but Urbahns said it has gone a long way toward cleaning up woebegone areas.
Residents can also make one call to report houses or commercial properties with structural problems or a site that has become a dumping ground. The caller gets a tracking number and can find out later what steps have been taken.
Inspectors will check the property to make sure it meets minimum requirements and tell the property owner what must be fixed. Fines or other penalties, including demolishing the property, are possible, Urbahns said.
As long as the owners are willing to put in effort toward fixing problems, the city is willing to work with them, added Mary Tyndall, Community Development public information officer.
Where there are neighborhood associations, the department often works with them to get the result they want: tearing down hopeless causes or finding ways to rehabilitate places that seem beyond repair.
The city, by the way, spends $500,000 a year just tearing down houses.
The weed-abatement and code enforcement processes are solid programs, but Fort Wayne residents need more targeted, concerted effort in this fight against violence.
Rather than waiting for concerned residents to call in, the Urban League recommends the entire community work to target hot spots.
We know where the violence is, and our neighborhoods in crisis need a sustained, effective campaign of blight reduction.
The city or the Urban League could spearhead a task force to clean up the worst of the worst. Start small, maybe one street at a time, and identify which houses are salvageable and which are beyond help.
For houses that are salvageable, work with the owners to see that they have the resources to get the job done – through local churches and other organizations, as well as local, state or national government programs.
For hovels without hope, let’s work to reach the demolition process faster and repurpose empty lots as neighborhood parks, gardens or some better uses.