Niagara Gazette

September 19, 2013

GUEST VIEW: City officials have failed the neighborhoods

By Memorial Block Club members
Niagara Gazette

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.

It is only when faced with the prospect of embarrassing newsworthy stories, that places are shut down, or selectively when “friends and family” arrive. And when it lands in their back yard, the city of Niagara Falls finally recognizes there is a Group Home Ordinance.

When will the city of Niagara Falls recognize the need to build a code enforcement department that effectively understands we must act consistently, persistently and transparently to address the issue of group housing, and more importantly; the issue of blight?

Who do we look to for developing policies and streamlined approaches to enact change, institute accountability of our public workers and ultimately address the condition of our neighborhoods?

As a community, we need to advocate for a portion of the casino money to institute a 311 Call and Resolution Center similar to the city of Buffalo. We need to take an active role in identifying problems in our neighborhoods, work collectively with our city and elected officials to provide solutions and community oversight to ensure the job is getting done.

There are some who believe it not the role block clubs to be engaged in such “state of affairs” or seemingly create an appetizer for politicians to feed on. It is our goal to provide the entrée to have some candid community conversations on the status quo at 745 Main St. If it is not our role — then whose role is it? It is everybody’s role.

This guest view was written by members of Memorial Park Block Club and their community outreach BUSIcats Committee. They meet on the seconnd Tuesday of the month at 498 Portage Road at 6:30 p.m. Contact memorialparkblockclub@yahoo.com or busicats2010@yahoo.com for more information.

Memorial Park Neighborhood Block Club and community outreach BUSIcats Committee. John Cooper, president.