PDT Staff Writer
Long-time Portsmouth resident and real estate agent Bob Gambill spoke to Portsmouth City Council Monday evening and took the complaint about blighted housing a step further by offering a solution.
“As you are all aware, we have dozens and dozens of abandoned properties throughout the city that are becoming a haven for undesirables and vandalism,” Gambill said. “Many of our long-time Portsmouth senior citizens are confronted with empty, dilapidated houses less than 10 feet from their own. And that’s the problem on Seventh Street.”
He said there is a house on Seventh Street where people who live on either side are scared of something happening because the house is standing open. He said he went around the city and found 20 houses in 20 minutes that were standing open.
Gambill offered a short-term plan and a long-term plan to deal with the problem.
“These properties must be identified and closed up on an emergency basis. It will take the coordination of several departments to do this and we would need to establish a centralized clearinghouse of sorts for the complaints,” Gambill said. “Initially both police and fire, as well as the Service Department would need to submit complaints. Perhaps these departments could receive a percentage of fines levied against the landlords, etc. That would provide motivation as well as help them with funding.”
Gambill said police and fire employees could spot the houses that are standing open. He suggested the likely location of the central point would be either the Engineering or Mayor’s Office.
“But those offices are struggling under their existing workload, and for this reason it may be necessary to form another division of one of these departments. The coordinator would need to maintain an EXCEL spreadsheet, updated daily as to what is accomplished and what is needed,” Gambill said. “Perhaps a 15-30 minute twice-weekly meeting with all parties would help keep this on track as well as sharing via e-mail of the updated, highlighted spreadsheet. An internship position could be created through Shawnee State University to assist, although I understand those have met with mixed results.”
He also suggested the use of Municipal Court probation workers, but that it would be necessary for the project to be supported by Engineering, Health, and Service Departments for materials and equipment transportation. He went on to say at the times emergency measures are taken to secure the property, aggressive measures would need to be initiated to notify owners and fines levied.
Gambill then addressed the possible long-term solutions.
“We need to have a comprehensive approach to dealing with enforcement of our code violations and forcing property owner accountability. Much has been accomplished in various areas with rental licensing as well as the recent demolition of several sub-standard homes. But we must move faster as we are losing the battle,” Gambill said. “I appeared before Council in the spring of 2010 with these same issues. We continue to have air conditioners being stolen in the middle of the afternoon from locations all across the city, copper theft and houses being stripped. More and more of our young families are choosing to leave our town. I don’t think we have a choice here.”
Gambill said he returned to City Council approximately a year ago with a city cleanup initiative for an area, the same area a recent cleanup area just finished re-cleaning a year later, “since it was as bad or worse as before we started.”
“We must do some enforcement,” Gambill said. “Money (fines) is the only thing that forces these landlords, many of them out-of-town, to do better.”
He then recommended that a new committee be established, one he said that would be solely responsible for implementing an effective complaint and resolution process.
“This committee needs to work in cooperation with Council, the Mayor, Health, Engineering and Service immediately to find a way to fix this ever-growing problem.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.