Niagara Gazette

Opinion

September 19, 2013

GUEST VIEW: City officials have failed the neighborhoods

Niagara Gazette — Recently, the owner of the former Eleanor Apartments submitted applications to turn their building located at the corner of Pine Avenue and 8th Street, into a boarding home for 140 people. The city has failed to protect our neighborhoods.

After a two-year struggle at city hall, in July 2012, the Group Housing Ordinance was adopted. When properly and effectively enforced, it is an effective tool to protect vulnerable populations and maintain the integrity of our neighborhoods.

Group Housing continues to be a troubling and growing concern in neighborhoods across the city. It has created unsafe situations and over-crowded living conditions. It has caused a significant increase in nuisance properties, vagrancy and criminal behavior, unhealthy and unsanitary conditions.

The ordinance defines terms that seem rather harmless and inviting; bed and breakfast, boarding home, sorority/fraternity, group home, halfway house and homeless residential facility. Left unattended, the city created and permitted, the opportunity for warehousing people. Unsuspecting tourists, homeless individuals, chronically mentally ill persons, immigrant workers and students are just a small portion of people who endure poor group living situations.

Many projects fall outside the jurisdiction of Niagara County and the state of New York due to “size” regulations and seldom do these agencies provide active oversight. This places the burden, responsibility and liability on the city of Niagara Falls. The lack of oversight and regulation has caused the illegal and non-conforming use of properties, oversaturation and concentrations in residential communities, and continues to cause a significant concern for the health and safety of vulnerable populations.

The primary objective and duty of the Building Inspections Department (Code Enforcement) is to “protect the public safety through the enforcement of the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code together with all local codes and ordinances.”

How many young international “hostellers” will arrive at a youth hostel, only to find it is a “house for unemployed and homeless” people with “bedbugs covering every bed?” How many parents will send their children to illegal, unlicensed and uninspected summer camps? The price some have paid is high, when the city fails to enforce the law.

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