Saturday, June 9, 2007

Not in my backyard

I've recently learned an invaluable lesson that I'm sure most homeowners come to grasp eventually: No matter how much work you put into your own house, you can't do anything if your neighbors let their properties go to crap.

Jerry and I live in a low-income area. And with that comes people who can't afford to maintain their houses -- particularly centuries-old houses that need quite a bit of attention and care. Not to mention landlords who buy big houses with the sole intention of making money and flying just under the town's codes and regulations radar.

Fortunately, we found a house in a good neighborhood with a lot of great people who take pride in their properties. Sure, we're flanked by renters, but both landlords have done significant exterior work in the past year: energy-efficient windows and new gutters to the left and an entire refurbished staircase to the right.

But all isn't well. After an outdoor screaming match at a house a few down from ours Monday night that involved police intervention -- which, sadly, I missed because I was at work -- we've come to learn that the landlord is trying to evict his tenant in hopes of putting in a halfway house. You know, a government-funded facility for convicted drug addicts' rehabilitation. And in my line of work, I am well aware that the likelihood of many of these people returning to their bad habits is fairly high.

At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I fully support the need for these types of facilities. But as a homeowner who is about to have a child, I know my property value would plummet, and I don't need any additional worries about allowing my child to play in his or her own backyard.

Instead of doing nothing, Jerry and I, along with a few of our neighbors, have brought the rumor to the attention of our local officials. Four of us met with the township's code officer and the borough manager in a small air-conditioned room yesterday afternoon in hopes of getting more information about any course of action we can take to prevent this from becoming a reality.

Fortunately, we were taken seriously. I got the feeling that they understood our concerns and even expressed that a halfway house would also be a disinterest to the township because it would go from a tax-collecting property to a tax-free property.

The other good news is that the house is in obvious disrepair. The landlord would likely need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the building up to code. Plus, he would need to meet strict state regulations to operate a funded facility. And, again, judging by the condition of the house, I doubt he has the funding and patience for that kind of an undertaking.

Unfortunately, there's really nothing that we as neighbors can do. A halfway house is considered a "group home" which falls under acceptable use in a residential zoning ordinance.

The other bad news is that the code officer mentioned that he had received a call about the project from the property owner -- proving to me that it isn't just a rumor.

I'm trying not to rush to conclusions and overreact, but it's hard not to. The neighbors who attended the meeting with us have already considered putting their house up for sale.

As of now, I'm believing in the good fight. Our newspaper has covered story after story where if a neighborhood bands together and throws a big stink, local officials usually step in and find some loophole to make the majority happy.

I'm hoping it doesn't come to that, but it's amazing what lengths I'm already willing to go to for a little inches-long being whose lungs can't even process air yet.


Tiffany said...

I don't blame you at all for not wanting that right beside you. Sure, they are a valuable tool for society, but you are right, most times I read about re-peat offenders and normally they're from a half-way house.

I hope you guys win your fight!

the plainsman planner said...

Many times when a project like this proposed half-way house are done by an agency themselves, with local people on their board of directors, the homes are carefully located and less of a problem as there is the factor of the personal committment to fellow citizens.

When the location is determed by the economic self-interest of a landlord looking for a long-term rental contract, there is no thought and regard for the neighborhood. Many large placement agencies are just looking for beds with no real concern where, other than if approved.

An example of the former which has done well here for over 15 years is located one a mile away in our upper middle-class community. Although in the center of a 100%residential zone, the house, at least 90 years old, was situated on an undersized lot.

A poor choice for a growing family, close to both streets on a busy intersection, small driveway, etc. despite its attractive classic architecture. Yes, it was run down, too. Across the street is a non-conforming use, a neat gas station which probably has been there in one form or another for 50 years. On the opposite corner is a large lot historic home which just received some designation plaque.

The center bought the run down home, restored it to its exterior charm and has tightly monitored its residents. It even has access to bus service virtually at the front door. The result, public support and many do not even notice or immediately realize who the ocupents are. A plus for everyone.

So understand your concerns; too bad the local needs can not be met with a more logically located home away from a neighborhood trying to survive or rebound.

If the developer has an agency in mind, perhaps the borough and its residents can pre-empt him and work directly with the agency to find a better site that would suit their needs and meet local concerns as well.

It does not make sense to try and fit those who are trying to get their lives together in a potentially hostile host neighborhood!

Sorry so legnthy here!

aahcoffee said...

We ended up moving because the neighborhood we were in was not one I wanted my daughter to be playing in our backyard in. Hope yours goes up, not down!

Ray said...

A, "Halfway House" being considered a group home?! I can just see it know, people sitting around in a circle talking about their feelings/experiences with a therapist or counselor. <<"Yea right!" More like people brawling, and chaos stirring.

Also are "Halfway Houses" unisex? And if not, I hope it's a woman's home instead of men. Men tend to be more hard to deal with in my opinion. I also think that places like that, although they are necessary should not be around housing. They should be in public places next to stores and such, so people like you don't have to go to bed at night and be scared.

Also with such disrepairs that this owner has, I hope he never does get to make that halfway house. But if he does, what are your and Jerry's plans if you don't mind me asking?

AND, even though that little baby can't breathe on it's own yet, you're doing what any mother would do. Putting their baby before them and making plans ahead of time. And that's makes you a good mother to be.

Take care, Kelly.

The best of luck with that crazy plan, I hope it falls through!

Emilee said...

You have every right to be concerned about the care and well-being of your child, even if it's not born yet.

We have a similar problem on my street. There's a woman who lives two doors down that we all refer to as the "Cat Lady" because she is a foster "parent" for the local humane society, but she keeps about 30-40 cats at a time in her house, along with her three pet dogs that always seem to just wander the neighborhood. She won't let anyone in her house, not even the police. Her yard is also a mess, it's a tangle of weeds and rocks. A lot of the neighbors have complained, but we can't do anything about it yet. It does hurt property value though, since the people next to her are trying to sell their house and so far, it's been on the market for over 2 months. And then there's the boyfriend who beat up his girlfriend in a different house down the street, and the man who was running a meth lab in his house...but don't even get me started on that. My parents considered selling many times, but never followed through. Have a good weekend on your newly painted porch! =]

natalie said...

i'm not sure if you've been keeping up with us the last few months (probably not--you've had A LOT going on and i understand), but we're looking for an old house to restore. i don't mind looking in iffy neighborhoods--it's all we can really afford in atlanta neighborhoods...with a tragically run-down Victorian going at over $400k in an "iffy" area--but Cooper can't stomach the idea. he always grew up in the ruch suburbs and though he shares my dream for restoring, he will only do that in a neighborhood where we couldn't even afford a 2 bedroom shotgun house. so i totally understand where you're coming from--living in an iffy neighborhood b/c of your wonderful house, but then having to deal w/all the stuff that comes with it.
at least your house isn't gotten broken into yet! (the last house we looked at had been broken in 4 x's in the last year!!!) i'll keep my fingers crossed for y'all. :-)

Chelsea said...

I'd be concerned too, I think a nice neighbordhood is important for kids. I grew up in a great one, everyone knew everyone and took care of everyone. If I were you I'd continue to stress the fact that their are children there, and need a positive environment. Hope all goes well!

Alexandria said...

Yikes! Hopefully, the project won't develop, and it'll just be "one of those things." I agree with you-- halfway houses are essential, but they definitely shouldn't be considered a group home! And it certainly isn't a good thing to have around with a new child.
Hopefully, nothing will come of this! Wishing you the best,

Janice said...

Oh wow, I can't believe that. It's so unfortunate with you being still slightly new to the neighboorhood and it being a nice place to live and all. I'm sure you'll figure it out, though. Usually in times like those things are figured out like you said with the loopholes and whatnot. Keep fighting on!

And thanks so much for the comment on my site. It really helped with the situation.

Candi said...

Having a baby (or in your case and mine, carrying one) does change you in a drastic way. I agree with what you say. I'd think they'd want to put a halfway house in a more secure area, and it's a little disturbing that it's legal for them to put it right in your neighborhood.

julie said...

It's really too bad you feel you have to fight this fight.

I'm not a convicted felon, but I am an active member of society who needed the help and stability and support that was offered to me through a halfway house. I am who I am today because of my seven months in a group home.

I tried many other methods of getting clean and staying clean, but the only thing that worked for me was living in a halfway house with eleven other women in recovery.

I am one of "those people" you're afraid of. And I'm sorry you feel that way.

kelly said...


I was wondering what you'd think of this post. And, no, it's not people like you I'm worried about.

It's just that halfway houses in our area typically aren't filled with people from here. They usually ship in people from larger cities like Philadelphia with extensive criminal records -- drugs being just the tip of the ice berg. Many have gang ties and a range of other convictions. Unfortunately, many of them find out during their time here that drugs can be sold for much more because there aren't as many dealers as in a big city. So they establish connections and come back.

For example, we recently ran a story in my paper about a guy who came here from Philly through a halfway house program. After his "rehabilitation," he impregnanted three teenage girls from the local high school, established an extensive cocaine ring and eventually was caught through undercover buys. Police nabbed him with four kilos in his car. He shot a city officer during the pursuit who is still in intensive care. Now he is facing sex with minors, illegal weapon charges, attempted homicide, AND the drug charges.

THAT is who I'm worried about living next door.

Sigh. If only all cases were success stories like yours. ... I guess that's one of many reasons I respect what you've done so much.