Blighted properties that attract criminals, graffiti and trash are the target of a new law that will go into effect December 8.
The ordinance, which was authored by Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval of Excelsior and Ingleside neighborhoods, will give the Department of Public Works the authority to repair blighted properties and then bill the negligent landlords.
“In our district we have houses that have been abandoned – people loiter, deal drugs, squatters move in,” said Nicholas Kinsey, aide to Supervisor Sandoval, about the motivation behind the new law.
The problems Kinsey described are familiar to Treat Street residents who live among some of the worst blight in the Mission District. Though residents succeeded in converting an abandoned lot into the popular Parque Niños playground on 23rd Street last year, empty and decaying properties persist directly across the street and throughout the neighborhood.
The house at 771 Treat near 21st Street burned in a fire more than three years ago, according to neighbors. Today the charred building is vacant and has become a dumping ground for trash and old mattresses.
Four years ago, a fire burned a hole in the roof of the house behind Adam McCauley’s Treat residence near 24th Street. Though tenants have long left and pigeons have moved in, McCauley’s efforts to get the city to take action against the unsightly property have been fruitless.
“They are aware of it, they have complaints on record, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all,” McCauley said.
Under the new law, however, McCauley’s complaints would be channeled to the Department of Public Works, which would then send out an investigator. If the property violates the anti-blight standards, the investigator would issue a notice to the landlord to make the necessary repairs. If the landlord fails to comply, the city will make the repairs and the cost will be added to the landlord’s property taxes.
The Department of Public Works is currently determining the criteria for defining blight. The department must also spell out the standards for repair, said spokesperson Christine Falvey.
But some Treat residents said the new system will not address one of the major problems associated with neighborhood blight: too many empty properties.
The block of 23rd Street between Treat and Folsom is devoid of residents except for one corner tenant. Neighbors say the absent landlords are unresponsive to the fresh graffiti that sprouts up on their property every week, and the vacant buildings make the area vulnerable to more crime.
Three people were shot at the intersection of 23rd Street and Treat in November of 2007. One man, Erick Balderas, was fatally wounded. Jorge Hurtado, an 18-year-old slam poet, was murdered in the same spot in August.
For at least two of the properties on 23rd Street, owners evicted tenants under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants only if they take the property off of the rental market for ten years.
“This blight law is fine but it really doesn’t address what our problem is,” said David Delp, who founded the neighborhood association Treat 1000 in response to the November shooting.
“What we are trying to do is create a community here and there is an empty block with no tenants and it could be that way for eight years.” That is the time that remains under the Ellis Act.
But as Kinsey explained, the new law could discourage landlords from leaving properties vacant since they could be vulnerable to a slew of maintenance fees.
“We can’t prevent someone from using the Ellis Act, but what we can do is make sure that property owner is really paying the true cost of keeping property vacant,” he said.
Still, Delp would like to see the landlords of empty properties be required to go beyond maintenance.
“The thing I imagine that might help is if there were some motion detectors that triggered some lights and a couple of cameras, even if they are fake ones.”