There's been another shooting in my neighborhood; this one is fatal. Three people were killed Aug. 9 in a house on South 10th Street, in the middle of a block full of families, less than three blocks from Harvard Park Elementary School. These killings are not isolated incidents in our city. Citizens in older neighborhoods witness far too many shootings and other acts of violence. In July, two separate shootings were perpetrated at one house on Yale Boulevard.
What do these incidents have in common? First, they all occurred in an older Springfield neighborhood, one being left behind as Springfield continues its relentless march outward. Second, they both occurred in rental homes, long neglected by their landlords and edging toward ruin.
I think it is time for a reckoning in Springfield. If we do not give careful attention to older neighborhoods, which comprise the entire center of our beloved city, they will devolve into uninhabitable blocks punctuated by crime scene tape. Eventually, every neighborhood will be "older," including those currently considered desirable. Every aging, marginal neighborhood was desirable at some point. This future affects all of us.
Surely, we can organize to restore peace, pride and safety to the neighborhoods that hold the history of Springfield. Surely leaders in city government, School District 186, local businesses, nonprofits, service organizations and neighborhoods can convene to craft solutions to the longstanding problems that result in blight and crime. We already know some key issues to address. None of them are simple, and they all require introspection, discussion and collaboration across differences.
Some of the issues we need to tackle are poverty, educational opportunity, job training, employment, housing and neighborhood infrastructure.
These issues can seem abstract and hard to approach. Yet modest efforts can yield big changes. Just like building a neighborhood, sustaining it requires that we build brick by solid brick. We can take immediate, specific, concrete steps to achieve positive change.
Specific first steps could include:
1. Require every property owner to pay for garbage and junk removal. Enforce violations promptly.
2. Require every property owner to regularly mow, remove weeds/leaves/fallen limbs, and keep a clean lot. Again, enforce violations promptly.
3. Establish a landlord registry, so that names and contact information for landlords is accessible to all citizens. Then we know who to call when a property becomes a problem.
4. Convene a homeowner/landlord/tenant/neighborhood task force to engage in joint problem-solving about the obligations and challenges of property ownership.
5. Promptly enforce city laws and regulations related to nuisance properties. If current regulations are not sufficient to keep neighborhoods safe and clean, let's adopt new ones.
6. Provide incentives for homeowners to maintain and improve their property.
We need every homeowner, including landlords, to be accountable. Just imagine each house as a home – a place where people are trying to make a life. And each home is part of a neighborhood, which will rise or fall with its housing stock. If you own a house, you need to treat it like you live in it. Buying a house in my neighborhood and living at the edge of Springfield or out of state, while neglecting your house next door to me, harms my property, and my neighborhood and, ultimately, all of Springfield.
I am not opposed to rental property. Rentals are an essential part of community housing. I am opposed to rentals being neglected and abandoned. Rental property and owner-occupied property should be indistinguishable when you drive through any neighborhood.
The time is now. The longer we wait, the harder it is to pull Springfield back from the edge of blight.
Polly Poskin is a resident of the Harvard Park neighborhood. She has long been active in the Harvard Park Neighborhood Association and Inner City Older Neighborhoods, although this opinion is not intended to represent the views of any group.