Last boards going up

Our last fence boards went up today! We started earlier this year, Steven and I, tearing down our old fence and cleaning up our yard. Lowes delivered our new materials and we got to work on putting the new fence up. We decided to redesign the fence lines to give us more room in our yard. Between Steven, me, Alex, Vivian Lillian, Paw Paw and Nana, we dug post holes, leveled, hauled debris, cut down limbs, hauled fence boards, held fence boards, drilled, etc and etc. We got everything up except the long piece in between ours and our neighbors’ house. In order to run that long stretch, it would need almost a bush hog to clear out all the tree limbs, bushes, vines, poison ivy ropes as big around as my thumb and all kinds of other junk.

So, Last week I was whining to a friend about having so many odd jobs around our property that need to get done and how I could not find someone to do the work. I was so happy when he mentioned a handyman company in Alexandria that did odds and end things. I called them right up and here we are three days later with the rest of the fence up!!! It looks awesome! They cleared the jungle and made a path down the fence line. We moved our fence 1 foot over because we own both properties. I am so happy with their work and gave them a whole list of things to do next week. If anyone in the Alexandria area is interested, I will share their name with you.

In other news, I had two carpenters out this week to give me bids on porch repair and fascia board replacement. The roofer gave us a bid and he is waiting on our choice of carpenter so he can get started on the roof. Both of those jobs are going to be hand in hand. While the roof is going on, the plumber is going to run a vent stack for our new bathroom so he won’t have to cut through shingles later on. Still waiting to hear from our electrician.

I am excited, but nervous. It’s gonna be a lot of noise and interruption, but this is what I have waited five years for! I guess I can handle the sounds of progress over the next couple months. Celebrate with me?

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Responsible Landlord Practices Key in Combatting Urban Blight

The following is a paper I wrote for one of my lower level English classes at NSU.  Unfortunately, I was limited to less than 10 pages, so this was a very short and concise paper and not exhaustive regarding how irresponsible landlords contribute a majority to urban blight.  Just a note of warning, this paper was turned in to a national database in order to combat plagiarism.  So if you landed on my blog and are thinking to use it for a paper submission, I would suggest you think again. 🙂  Without further ado, here is my opinion regarding combatting urban blight.

Responsible Landlord Practices Key in Combatting Urban Blight

Venture into the urban core of any American city and empty buildings, boarded up windows, decay and blight are normal sights to see.  Every city battles this problem and although there may be other factors that cause urban decay, absentee landlords seem to be at the heart of the matter. Slumlords are typically landlords who do not pay attention to repairs needing to be made on their properties and who attempt to gain as much profit as they can from the least amount of expenditure.  Landlords who operate in this manner generally have their own interests at heart rather than their tenants’ interest at heart.  In order to remediate urban blight, we will have to employ ways of limiting the root cause: unethical landlord practices.

Shortly after WWII, many families sought the quiet ideal life in suburbia. The automobile made it possible for people to travel farther and to live outside city limits.  Even though many people sought the ideal life on the fringe of the city, many of the city’s poorer residents remained due to their closeness to resources and jobs. In his 2001 book entitled Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, MIT urban historian Robert M. Fogelson writes that “The upper and middle classes were moving to the periphery and the suburbs, but the lower class, many of whose members belonged to one or another of the nation’s ethnic and racial minorities, were staying put — some because they did not want to move, others because they could not afford to” (318).  When people migrated farther and farther from the heart of the city many urban properties and businesses suffered.  As residents have disappeared, many abandoned buildings have been left in their wake.   Little did America know that this mass exodus, starting in the late 1950’s, would be a contributing factor to urban blight and open the real estate arena to those seeking to maximize profits on homes declining in value.  Compounded with the emptying city, over the past sixty years elderly long-time residents have started to pass away and children who have moved away from their family home and currently have no need of these properties end up boarding them up, leaving them empty or neglecting to pay the property tax.  Many of these homes end up in tax sales and also bought by slumlords. 

Unscrupulous landlords purchase declining properties for a relatively small amount of money and rent them out barely habitable in order to milk them dry, then turn around and sell them.  This strategy, while effective in making a few quick bucks, is short sighted in the long run.  Not only does this poor tactic adversely affect neighborhoods and property values, but it also promotes squalor and unhealthy living conditions.  Chris Blank, a research consultant, in his article “Reasons for Urban Decay” contends that “Slumlords have been a factor in urban decay in the U.S. for many decades. In the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, ethnic enclaves were often filled with buildings owned by slumlords, who spent little or no money or effort to maintain them. Even in the early 21st century, absentee slumlords are a major factor in contributing to urban decay.”  It is apparent that landlords have operated slums for many years and have been left unchecked without any strong supervision or oversight by city planning officials.  Owning real estate generally falls under investments and many states do not require that a landlord have a business license in order to buy or rent real property.  In effect, landlords have very little administration other than city ordinances over managing their properties.  This lack of control has escalated blight due to the ineffective management strategies of irresponsible landlords.

When blight is present in an urban neighborhood, it contributes to the perspective of the area being crime ridden and when searching for a home to purchase, a prospective buyer will generally look for an area they perceive to be safe and well maintained.  Many urban areas across the U.S. are eyesores and property values are low because they do not present a tempting package to those in the market for a home.  G. E. Breger, a journalist for Land Economics, in his article “The Concept And Causes Of Urban Blight” asserts that “Not infrequently the appearance and activities of neighborhood residents add conspicuously to collective corrosion. Or in nonresidential neighborhoods employees or customer clientele may be responsible for this detractive attribute. Of far greater importance, blighted neighborhoods generally spawn crime and disease, and thus evoke fear throughout the community.”  These factors decrease desirability and drive prospective homeowners away.  Slumlords contribute to the unseemliness of the area, not only by not making repairs, but also many slumlords are in the practice of emptying a previous renter’s belongings out on the curb where they will remain for days, if not weeks, until they are picked up and discarded reducing the already waning property’s curb appeal.  Many of the reasons for this type of blight point back to poor or lack of maintenance by landlords.

Proper maintenance and reinvestment in rental properties are the keys to reduce blight and cause property values to escalate.  Landlords reinvesting funds into older real property is essential in bringing about new life in urban areas.  In other words, landlords should seek to sustain their properties by providing proper maintenance which will in turn allow property values to increase and this is the better financial venture in the long run.  An older home provides benefits that newer suburban homes may not.  In older neighborhoods, lot sizes tend to be bigger and in the earlier 19th century, home construction was very sound.  Not only would better maintenance cause an urban property to appreciate, but communities and cities would also benefit as a whole. 

Some landlords argue that renters are just as responsible for upkeep and maintaining their rental unit.  While I agree in part that a renter is responsible for keeping their rental clean, the landlord is responsible to facilitate repairs and keep the property free from safety and health hazards. Landlords are responsible for making all necessary repairs and also perform maintenance or remedy a problem after being notified by the renter.  If the landlord fails to take measures to correct the defect, generally the renter has a remedy through the City’s code enforcement or Attorney General’s office to take action against the derelict landlord.    However, many renters fear eviction if they speak up or press the issue with their inattentive landlord, so they put up with the neglect.  Many of the homes slumlords choose to purchase are in deteriorating neighborhoods.  The houses purchased are already in dire need of maintenance and many times the slumlord will make enough repairs on a home to pass a housing inspection in order to rent it out.  Renters, even if they wanted to repair their rental units, generally do not make enough money to facilitate repairs and probably would not rent such sadly abused properties in the first place if they were able to afford something better.  Many slumlords accept Section 8 housing vouchers which subsidize low income families’ rent.  However, Blank asserts that “Without funds to maintain aging housing stock, and high concentrations of very poor residents, public housing developments became decrepit and dangerous, and a major center of urban decay in many cities.”  Many renters, even if they wanted to move, may not have the funds to secure better housing or to even fund the cost of moving from one rental to the other.  Faced with the decision of putting food on the table or repairing a property they do not own, many renters will do what they need to survive and ignore the poor condition of the unit. Not all of the landlords are unethical and there are property owners who maintain their buildings, however, a good majority of these urban homes are owned by absentee landlords who do not properly sustain their buildings.   Slumlords generally maximize profits by living off of the indigent and have no concern regarding their renters’ state of living.  In order to combat this disturbing trend in our inner cities, new strategies will need to be employed.

Some cities require landlords to obtain a business license in order rent properties.  This is not a consistent practice across the board, but in the urban areas that have required landlords to obtain licensure, they have experienced a small revival in their cities.  Salt Lake City, Utah for example requires all landlords to obtain a business license annually and attend an eight hour training course every three years.  During this training, landlords are instructed on how to do credit and criminal background checks on perspective renters, as well as learn ethical landlord practices.  According to the Utah Apartment Association “the programs have helped reduce the number of so-called slumlords – landlords who shirk their responsibilities to tenants and the surrounding community.”  All funds received for the landlord business license are then funneled back into the area by way of code enforcement and police protection.  If urban cities implemented a similar license requirement, this practice would not only educate landlords, it would hold them responsible through their licensure.  Having an oversight committee would encourage more involvement of landlords in the administration of their properties. 

In order to reverse urban blight, we must find ways to limit slumlords from gaining control of multiple properties and also encourage better maintenance practices on the buildings they do own.  One way to limit the control of properties is to re-zone urban areas and enforce deed restrictions in areas with high rental property.  A deed restriction is a limitation on the use of a property.  Deed restrictions have been proven to be a useful tool for many years to enforce such things as mineral and water rights, easements for particular uses and restrictive covenants.  Most deed restrictions that are employed currently have been applied to new homes and in connection with home owner’s association.  Deed restrictions have been very effective in maintaining property values in new neighborhoods due to their preventative qualities.  Other types of deed restrictions utilized restrict homes to being sold only to permanent residents.  For example, in a certain area, a prospective buyer may be required to be a resident and live in the house at least eight months of the year before being allowed to purchase it.  Another benefit of re-zoning neighborhoods and creating deed restrictions on properties is that the percentage of rentals and homeowners is closely monitored. 

Deed restrictions are a tool used most recently by tourist towns where most of the properties are owned by once a year vacationers.  What happens in some of these desirable vacation areas is that most of the property is bought by the rich or elite and then become private vacation homes or rentals.  This in turn limits area residents from being able to purchase or rent housing since the high demand drives up property prices.  Many times, rentals are only available for vacationers and are not open to year round residents of the area.  City officials noted that this phenomenon causes many properties to remain empty and susceptible to theft for most of the year, as well as severely limiting housing options for area residents.  In order to solve this dilemma, many towns rezone neighborhoods and implement deed restrictions where a percentage of the properties sold have to be lived in a minimum amount of months out of the year by the person purchasing the property.  For example, if properties are purchased in Zone 1, the deed restrictions in that area require that at least 40% of the purchased properties must be lived in by permanent residents at least eight months of the year.  The other properties in Zone 1 can be bought and rented.  A tight control over how many are rentals and how many are residential units is maintained by the city’s zoning committee.  If these kinds of zoning ordinances and deed restrictions were employed in urban areas, the city can then in turn limit the amount of houses purchased by slumlords.  This would create safe, affordable, clean and habitable places to live for low income residents, as well as re-opening the housing market to permanent residents and homeowners. 

Secondly, deed restrictions outline a standard of maintenance for the houses located in various zones.  Many of the requirements require that the house be free of peeling paint, broken windows or shutters; rotten wood and all manner of general health and safety hazards.  Failure to comply with the maintenance issues results in tickets, fines, penalties and eventually court dates.  Faced with such a high standard, slumlords who are thinking to make fast and easy money will shy away from properties requiring so much attention and maintenance.  The number of maintenance code violations increase in urban areas as houses age and the percentage of home ownership declines. Many cities have taken note of the growing epidemic of downtown dilapidation and have started exploring ways to revitalize their areas.  Limiting the amount of property that can be owned for the purpose of renting will promote home ownership and bring in more permanent residents to help sustain the area. Homeowners generally invest in their homes and perform maintenance out of necessity. Homeownership also fosters pride in self and pride in the community.  This is not to suggest that renters should be pushed out of the area, on the contrary, renters are valuable to downtown and urban areas where condos and large buildings are located.  Without renters, these buildings would not thrive.  However, balancing the amount of rentals versus owned properties is crucial to urban revitalization.  In order to even the numbers, oversight of the maintenance of the properties in these re-zoned areas would be key and, as suggested above, those wishing to profit on the indigent, will either become educated in the area of appropriate landlord practices, or shy away from properties because of the extensive requirements.

If we do not have people willing to relocate to these areas due to blight, then our inner cities will continue to suffer.  University of Seattle Business professors William Weis and David Arneson in their article entitled “Thriving As A City In Year 2020: A Model For Urban Vitality” point out “No one wants to live in a pig pen. Indeed, we want our living environment to be as attractive and as pleasant as we can make it, and that goes for our neighborhood as well.” Weis and Arneson argue that to become a thriving urban center by the year 2020, good planning will need to take place now to draw people back to the urban core.  “Without the people, there is no city. In the developed world, the most economically vibrant cities are those most densely populated. Period. No exceptions. What are left today of American urban centers are sparsely, not densely, populated.”  If plans to check urban blight are not put in to place now, downtown areas will irreversibly decline.  In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Sicinius asks “What is the city but the people?” (Shakespeare, III,1,1975).

It has been predicted that due to the recent economic downturn and gas prices, many people will start to return to urban areas due to resources being closer to home and housing being more affordable.  USAToday journalist Haya El Nasser in her article entitled  “Will ‘intelligent Cities’ Put an End to Suburban Sprawl?” affirms that “Suburbs far from urban centers suffered the biggest drop in housing values, and many studies show transportation savings for those who live in or close to cities. This urban revival is fueled by the fact that cities have fared better than many suburbs in the economic downturn because the resulting housing bust put the brakes on many people moving to bigger houses or newer communities.” If this precedent continues, the need for a new solution will be critical and re-zoning neighborhoods will become a must.  The reversal of the mass exodus to the suburbs could potentially bring good benefits to our inner cities as people search for lower cost housing in urban areas. Alan Greenblatt, in his article entitled “Downtown Renaissance” insists that “After decades of decline, America’s downtowns are making a comeback. From Phoenix to Philadelphia, from Memphis to Minneapolis, once derelict areas have become clean.”  If city officials would organize now and start requiring business licenses of landlords in order to rent units within the city and by rezoning these regions with the implementation of deed restrictions, everything will be in place for these returning residents to breathe new life into these metropolitan communities. Those citizens seeking to become urban dwellers will have little more to do than to jump off the spring board into urban revitalization.

AFTER

To see the information I used to compile this essay, please click on the Works Cited page below.
UrbanBlightWorksCited

Sills Replaced, Foundation Work Complete!

Our work was slated to start on August 29th but due to Hurricane Isaac, we got rescheduled to the 31st.  I swear, if its not one thing, its another.  When the foreman showed up to start the job, he didn’t have half the equipment he needed and when I brought out the contract and verified that he was going to dig down into the ground and put the steel reinforcement I had previously talked to the salesman about, he did not know what I was taiking about.  After several calls and 3 hours MIA, we received a call from the owner of the company and we were rescheduled.  Sigh…at that point, I was not sure if we were EVER going to get the foundation repair completed.  This has been a 3 year project in the making.  So, long story short, the first foreman did not know what he was doing.  Later on I found out he was fired (uh-oh!)

On September 4, the company sent another foreman and WOW, this guy knew what he was doing.  Of course, we got off on the wrong foot early in the morning before I had my coffee and he was slightly rude, but nevertheless, he got the job done and I was very pleased with the final product.  I was having serious misgiving when a column fell and a sewer pipe was ruptured, but thankfully the column was put back correctly and the sewer pipe was an old and not connected to anything.  Below are pictures during the sill replacement and one is after it was complete.  I am so very excited!  I have some calls in to carpenters.  The porch work is next.  We could not replace the rotted porch boards until the foundation repair was complete.  So my porch has been quite useless these past 5 years.  I am ready to be able to enjoy it.

The roofing contractor came by this week.  In the next couple days, he is going to give us the start date on our new roof.  He is also going to do all the carpentry on the roof and replace all of the fascia boards.  I AM SO EXCITED!  Bye-bye rusted flashing and rotted fascia boards!

Next to commence will be rewiring half the house (that is still on knob and pole wiring…SCARY!  I KNOW!) and after that will be all new plumbing, out with the cast iron pipes, in with PVC and……drumroll please……an additional BATHROOM!  Yay! (confetti falling from the sky!).  Unfortunately, in our 3200 square foot house, we only have ONE, yes I did say ONE, bathroom for 5 people!  We will be adding a full bath on to Vivian’s bedroom.  I am trying to work out a small half bath in the hall, maybe under the stairwell.  So far, that project is not going very well.  I am not sure if I will be able to manage it.  We shall see….

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Above-back porch sill.  They jacked up the corner and put a concrete block underneath it.  They did not realize the column was hollow, so the concrete went inside the column and it fell.  Oops!  It got all fixed back.  It looks good.  I am happy.

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This is a picture of them shimming the front sill to fix it.

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This is a picture of the completed work and the sill replaced.  Unfortunately, they don’t make a block of wood big enough the same size as the sill, so 2-3 pieces of treated wood had to be bolted together to replace the sill.

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This is a picture of them working on the corner.

I think my favorite thing about the repair was the crew.  The foreman was the only one who spoke English.  All of the workers were tiny, but man, did they put up a sill!  At lunch time, they brought a microwave out of the truck and hooked it up to the extension cord to cook their lunch.  Ingenious!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Andrea

RIP Thompson-Hargis Mansion

Last night was very sad for Preservationists in Cenla. The Thompson-Hargis home was irreparably destroyed by fire. At this time we know that it started in the back of the house and according to KALB, the cause was arson perpetuated by a 13 year old girl.  An arrest has been made.

A security guard has been posted at the house remains to deter vandalism until a future disposition of the house can be determined by the family. Built in 1907 (some documents I have say 1902) without the benefit of a house plan by B.F. Thompson, a Canadian, the Thompson-Hargis mansion survived a total of 105 years until its historic reign was brought to an untimely end on September 9, 2012. Rivaling the beautiful and well preserved mansions on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, this mansion was the last one of its kind in Alexandria.

Mansion Row, as it is locally named, will not be the same. RIP grand lady.

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The above pictures were taken via iPhone as it was unfolding.  For pictures taken this morning, click here to be redirected to the WeSawThat blog.

P.S. I wrote a short post spotlighting this property in 2008 and made the comment that it would not last much longer in the state that it was presently in.  It has been a top post for the past two days, understandably so.  I am sad that this was a fulfilled prophecy. 😦

Almost 10 months later

 

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Alex 3                                   Alex 4, first day of school

Well, here we are, almost 10 months post adoption and as I look over pictures from the past 10 months, I think that Alex and Lillian have changed SO MUCH! They don’t look like babies anymore….waaah! Not only have they started school, but they are losing that baby face. They look grown up.

And especially my sweet baby Vivian…she turned 8 yesterday.  Wow…where has the time gone???