Money to help enforce city codes

Columbia’s Neighborhood Response Team received mixed reviews after violations were not corrected.
Monday, May 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:57 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

After the latest wave of inspections by the city’s Neighborhood Response Team about two weeks ago, First Ward resident Robbin Ricketts said she wanted stricter enforcement of city codes in her central-city neighborhood.

On Wednesday, neighborhood specialist Bill Cantin asked the Community Development Commission to earmark $25,000 for the response team in 2007. It was one of 11 requests city staff members made for a share of the annual Community Development Block Grant that Columbia gets from the federal government.

CDBG money comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and targets projects designed to improve low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.

The total CDBG allocation for 2007 is expected to be about $850,000. So far, the city has submitted 11 proposals totaling $912,100. Private agencies, which will receive a share of the grant, will make their proposals before the commission on Wednesday.

Although First Ward residents contacted Thursday said they wanted to see the Neighborhood Response Team continue, some said they thought it could do more. The team, which consists of members of the Columbia Police Department, a health inspector and a Public Works inspector, will look for violations in three designated areas, the largest of which is in the First Ward north of Broadway.

The program began six years ago. High percentages of the exteriors of homes inspected were in violation in years past. Now, only 15 percent of homes inspected are in violation.

After the most recent round of inspections, Cantin sent letters to residents whose homes failed to meet city codes. “Only things that can be observed from the streets, such as roof deterioration, peeling paint, debris in yard, etc., are being reviewed,” he wrote in the letter.

Ricketts said that even though the team saw accumulating trash and overgrown grass and weeds in her next-door neighbor’s backyard, Ricketts’ neighbor told her she received no letter of complaint from the city. Ricketts said she worried that such violations posed hazards that could hurt the children at her home day care center.

Cantin said he hears complaints all the time, both from those who think the program isn’t strict enough and from others who think the city is picking on them.

Commissioner Pat Kelley, who represents the First Ward on the panel, said she remembered when the Response Team came to her home as part of the program’s test run in 2000.

“When it first started, we were so excited,” said Kelley, who lives in the Ridgeway neighborhood, just south of Business Loop 70. But the program failed to meet her expectations. Most notable, she said, was the lack of pressure from the city. Problems arose when some residents simply ignored the city’s notices, she said.

“When we were fixing our violations,” Kelley said, “we thought the drug dealers and absentee landlords would have to fix theirs, too.”

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