Efforts to clean up Havre's east end
July 30, 2009
Alice Campbell Havre Daily News [email protected]
Junk cars, unkept yards, excessive garbage, dogs at large, speeding vehicles and run-down properties: "These are just things that are inappropriate, and you as residents of the east end that are trying to take care of your properties, that are trying to do the right thing, should not have to be subjected to that," Mayor Bob Rice told the handful of people in attendance at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening. The mayor called the meeting to give people a forum to discuss numerous complaints that he said the city has been receiving about the east end. "East of 5th Avenue; that's the east end," Rice said. More importantly, "we want to do whatever we can to assist you," Rice Told attendees. "With a little bit of help from the community down there, I think we can make a difference," he said. "What would you like to see us do the most?" Asked Allen "Woody" Woodwick, a representative of Ward 4. "Clean up properties," one man in attendance said, and then hold the property owners accountable. "To me, that can be changed. "It's bad. I mean, a town of 10,000, I don't think, should have a ghetto," he added. There were several complaints about Section 8 housing. Rice said he has been in contact with the regional office in Great Falls, but that there's not much federal officials can do without pictures, which he plans on taking and sending. People alleged that instead of maintaining properties, landlords have been "rat-holing that money and making people live in trash." Often, landlords live out of town and don't see the state their properties are in, Rice said. The Se c t i on 8 Rental Assistance program does help pay rent, Diane Savesten- Getten, the program's administrator, said this morning, but it's up to landlords and renters to hold each other accountable. There are 289 rental vouchers that she oversees, with another 300 families and individuals on the waiting list, she said. Once a person reaches the top of the list and is approved, they choose where they want to live, and then she goes and inspects the property to make sure it is safe. The rent subsidy is based on 30 percent of the person's income, which they are required to pay before the difference is made up through the program. Landlords are held to a fair market rental payment standard, which is re-evaluated every few years to "make sure that the rents are in line," S ave s t e n -Ge t t e n s a i d . Sometimes the evaluations mean rents are raised, she added. After the initial inspection, Savesten-Getten said, she makes yearly inspections, and if needed notifies the landlord about necessary repairs, then returns to make sure that they are made. But often things change in one day. "In one day they (tenants) could break out another window," she said. Some landlords call the city and want something done about trashed homes after tenants move out, Rice said. There's generally nothing the city can do about that, he said, but added that they can help clean up the property and cart away the garbage. Rice shared concerns with boarded up homes, which he said can become problems when people use them for purposes such as meth manufacturing because they know the properties are vacant. There are six such houses, he said, that he can think of and added that he's planning on looking into what can be done to minimize improper use. Approximately 400 citations have been given for violations of the weed ordinance, Rice said, adding that the city is looking into changing the ordinance so that once a person has been cited, that citation applies for the length of the summer. The parks are an area that residents would like to see worked on, as well. Tourist Park and Carpenter Park are spots that the city is looking at improving, but there's only so much money to go around, Rice said, adding that he agreed with a comment that if the parks look nice and clean, that people will try to maintain them that way. People also shared concerns regarding sidewalks and the dangers that uneven ones pose to runners, bikers and people just walking. Rice said there is a plan in place that helps prioritize what projects get worked on first but that there just isn't enough money to go around, especially with all of the waterline breaks that happen in the east-end area. Residents can pay to redo sidewalks with curbs and gutters through low interest loans, Rice said after the meeting, but the residents have to initiate the process. Comments were also made concerning speeding near Pepin Park, with the suggestion of using a portable speed radar to show people how fast they're really going. The sign that the city has used before is through a partnership with Blaine County, Rice said, where the sign is now. Nystrom said that sign should be back in the next few weeks, and Woodwick suggested coinciding its use with the beginning of school. Co u n c i l memb e r Pam Hillery suggested bumping the fine in the area, posted as 15 mph, up to $100, which "would tell me very quickly to slow down." Overall, "the crime at the east end has gone down," Rice said. He expects it to remain at a low level because of increased surveillance, he added, but there is fear of retaliation for complaining about neighbors. "I'm finding that to be more and more true," he said. For that reason, Rice said, he will accept anonymous complaints, but urged people to talk with their representatives, Woodwick and Andrew Brekke, before coming to the city. "We are looking for ideas," Brekke said after the meeting and encouraged people to call. Even with the best of efforts and intentions, "things fall through the cracks, and that's why I need a phone call," Rice said.