City needs to address real housing issues

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By Paul Arena
Rockford Apartment Association

Rockford has a crime problem. Two years ago the Rockford city council passed an ordinance that was intended to help address that problem. It is called the Residential Quality Support Ordinance and it focused on rental property.

A critical aspect of the ordinance was the component that held the perpetrator responsible. The part of the ordinance that directly addresses crime, however, has never been used. The reason, the city claims, is that the city can’t find a property where on three occasions in four months behavior on the property disturbed the neighborhood. The city can’t find the crime because they are not looking. It occurs on a daily basis.

What distinguishes this ordinance is that it used a different method to control crime than the failed measures that had been used in the past. It requires individuals who engaged in minor criminal behavior that disturbs neighborhoods to be held accountable. If the problems persist a group of community members called a Housing Board would offer suggestions to control the behavior.

Crime problems are complex and so the Housing Board’s advice could be directed at all parties, including asking for the government’s cooperation as part of the solution. For example, did you know the city or States Attorney can currently handle an eviction case when serious crime occurs? We currently have available a special eviction procedure to respond to serious crime. It is seldom used because the government controls the evidence in criminal cases and does not make that evidence available to property owners. We have those tools available today but choose not to use them.

Historically, Rockford has used code enforcement to go after a property owner when tenants engage in criminal activity. That policy punishes a person who made an investment in the community and gives the offender a pass. It has been the policy during the 25 years I have been an investor in Rockford. It displaces the crime from neighborhood to neighborhood and discourages investment in high crime areas.

On Monday night a city council committee decided that the ordinance was not usable because they can’t find crime. The focus needs to be expanded to included code enforcement of items like weeds and mice. Housing providers were not part of the conversation that justified this expansion so I am not sure how controlling mice and weeds prevent crime.

Keep in mind that we already have a system for code enforcement, but now we will ask the housing board to advise people to cut their grass or place mouse traps.

The committee decided that hotels, motels, homeless shelters, community-based housing and group homes do not need to be regulated by the ordinance. Apparently controlling mice, weeds and possibly crime are not important at those properties.

The committee also determined that small multi-family properties that are not being rented but are lived in by members of the owner’s family or friends do need to be included. Apparently controlling mice, weeds and possibly crime are important at those properties.

Last week I attended a community meeting regarding crime in Rockford. I estimate at least a third of the people in attendance were elected officials. They praised each other and committed to work together. After an hour of listening to campaign speeches with no substantive ideas being offered, I left. I have been told by the people who stuck it out that no substantive ideas to control crime were ever presented.

The Residential Quality Support Ordinance is a new, substantive idea to control crime. It was developed over 4 years of conversations. The people who participated are community leaders including elected officials, city staff, and representatives of public housing, private housing providers, Realtors, and neighborhood associations. The original ordinance was carefully crafted. Each element was discussed and put in place for a reason. The title is the goal: Residential Quality Support.

The version voted on by the committee on Monday was butchered in a back room and then delivered to the council. The final version wasn’t made public until after the committee discussed it. The result is the same failed policy we have today. This ordinance does not need to be amended. It needs to be used as the committee that developed it and the council that passed it intended it to be.

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