New approaches under way in city’s blight fight

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The city’s Residential Services Department is taking an aggressive, multi-faceted tact to stemming neighborhood blight.

Department Director Nick Siroskey at a City Council study session last week explained a number of new systems that building inspectors are using to step up enforcement on code violations.

The focus of the overall initiative, he said, is flexibility and accountability – things both made easier by a new computer data system. Electronic tablets have replaced the handwritten reports and citations of the past, making it easier for inspectors to access information about specific properties.

“We never had any of this data before, so it allows us to look more carefully at what areas have problems we should be addressing,” Siroskey said.

To help foster accountability among the inspectors, something Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said was lacking under former policies, city officials have divided the city into eight zones, each with a designated inspector and code enforcement caseload.

By having designated zones and better data access, the inspectors are better able to keep close tabs on problem houses, O’Reilly said. Meanwhile, department administrators also are using the same data to ensure that any violations that are issued are followed up on properly.

“My goal was to create more accountability,” O’Reilly said at the study session. “Now what we can do is coordinate data and use that to make sure that things aren’t slipping through the cracks.”

In addition to the new city procedures, residents are being asked to do a little policing of their own. O’Reilly said he is reaching out to neighborhood associations to try to get residents well informed on how to report code violations and what should be reported.

City officials also are exploring the possibility of putting a cap on the number of rental houses permitted within the city. While the exact number of current rental properties is unknown, O’Reilly said it was at least 3,000, or about 10 percent of the city’s housing stock. And as unprecedented rates foreclosures continue to make cheap properties abundant, it’s likely the number won’t fall soon.

“We’re not saying we’re against rentals, because we’re not,” O’Reilly said. “A lot of the people who rent in a city end up buying there later.

“But if a neighborhood is 20, 25 percent rentals, you know darn well that it’s headed for trouble.”