Monday, November 16, 2015

'What will we do about the neighbors?'

Drive through many neighborhoods in many cities and towns and you can see houses in need of repair and yards and porches stacked with bags of garbage and other material. 
It seems to be a growing problem, a problem growing with maggots and other pests that feed on the mess. 
What are we going to do about it? 
Many times, neighbors call city hall and ask that action be taken. Ask the mayors in any small city in Indiana and I can guarantee they have received those calls. At least that is what I’ve heard from the mayors to whom I have spoken. 
“Someone needs to clean up that mess,” is the tone many of those conversations take. 
The recession that supposedly ended a few years ago has much to do with the situation. When people are short on money and have to choose between paying their mortgage or rent and repairing the house, it’s a tough call, but paying the rent wins out. 
Government usually takes a carrot and stick approach. 
“We can fine you X dollars a day but if you work with us and begin to clean up your property, you can avoid the fine,” is how the conversation often goes. 
If cities go in to clean up the property, a tax lien can be placed on the the property, which means the property cannot be sold until the lien is satisfied. In the case of absent landlords, the owner doesn’t usually care what happens to the property, doesn’t pay his taxes, and in extreme situations it becomes blighted property. The city may eventually apply for a grant to tear down the property and sell the land to someone who will develop it and get it on the positive side of the property tax ledger. 
The house we bought 14 years ago was headed for that fate when the neighbors intervened. 
Years before we bought it, the house had set empty and the yard was a mess.
The neighbors on either side looked at the yard that was becoming a jungle and decided they would get together and mow it. 
Eventually, people bought the house and owned it for a period of years before they sold it to us. 
Neither the City nor the County had to get involved. If the yard hadn’t been trimmed, would the property have sold? Maybe not. Curb appeal is important; ask any real estate agent. 
What would happen if neighbors offered to help people maintain their property? Instead of asking the mayor, “What are you going to do about it?” what would happen if people asked their neighbors, “Can I carry those sacks of trash to the curb for you?” Or, just get together if the house is setting empty, and clean up the yard like the neighbors on either side of our house did?
What is the worst that can happen? Get sued for trespassing? In a yard where no one is living in the house or where grass is a foot high and plastic bags are scattered about? 
President Ronald Reagan one time suggested churches could help feed the poor in the their communities. 

Seems like Someone else made a similar suggestion thousands of years ago. Bet He would approve of neighbors helping one another.