City housecleaning

July 23, 1991

There is absolutely no benefit to the city when 6,000 row houses stand vacant in various states of disrepair and dilapidation, beckoning rats and drug addicts to infiltrate otherwise decent neighborhoods. Yet cleaning up these eyesores is no easy task. So last week's ruling by Circuit Court Judge Joseph Kaplan is a hopeful sign -- not only that the city is willing to become involved in the battle, which well it should, but also that it is prepared to provide some legal tools to empower its communities.

Kaplan ruled that the state's nuisance law was sufficient grounds to force the owner of a vacant, rodent-infested row house in Harlem Park to either occupy the house or turn it over to a community group for renovations. Together with a new City Council bill which allows officials to petition the court to appoint a receiver to rehabilitate and sell a neglected property, the ruling is a very solid beginning. But it is not enough.

When people are homeless and the waiting list for public housing is burgeoning, the city's aim ought to be to make all dilapidated housing fit to live in. In addition to these new legal tools, city officials should reconsider the old $1 housing program, which in essence gave away properties in exchange for a commitment to fix them up. They ought to solicit new ideas from the private sector as well. Kaplan's ruling has provided the impetus for positive change; the challenge now is to follow through.

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