Minimal Output Should Mean Eviction Of City Housing Committee

Perhaps it is time to disband the Jamestown City Council’s Housing Committee.

The committee was formed in 2004 by former council president Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney. Dr. Ney then installed Carolyn Bloomquist, wife of Don Bloomquist, former CODE Inc. executive director, as the committee’s chairperson and charged the committee with helping create policies that would help improve housing in Jamestown and educate citizens both of their responsibilities as homeowners and tenants in Jamestown and of how city residents could improve their neighborhood. During Bloomquist’s tenure the committee met regularly and was active in looking for policies and procedures that could improve housing in the city and give more tools to code enforcement officers and the Jamestown Police Department.

The committee’s influence and activity level have waned in the decade since Carolyn Bloomquist left the council. There have been brief periods of activity, such as last February when Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4 and committee chairperson, asked the NRP Group and CODE Inc. to discuss a proposal to demolish delapidated housing on Spring Street and replace it with a new housing development. The committee has, in the past 18 months or so, discussed a nuisance abatement proposal from the Jamestown Renaissance Corp., though nothing ever came of the discussions.

The committee has shown little appetite for policy — or having meetings at all — for the better part of a decade. Nuisance policies have been briefly discussed and then fallen away. Landlord licensing has been discussed, opposed by landlords and fallen away. Discussions of housing demolitions and how to fill ensuing vacant spaces rarely happen at the council level. Much of that work is done through the Jamestown Renaissance Corp., a non-profit created to implement the city’s Urban Design Plan and which is also working to implement the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Plan.

While some of the neighborhood plan’s implementation is best served by a non-profit, the council — specifically the Housing Committee — has a vital role to play in creating policy that ranges from what types of housing developments should be pursued, if more regulation of landlords is necessary, if changes to the city’s building code are needed, if more inspections of property are needed, if fines need to be increased and if the city’s code needs to be changed to meet the needs of a changing city. It can keep tabs on demolitions, the number of housing code cases and problem areas that code enforcement officers are finding and then creating appropriate policies to fix the problem. Even if the committee never passed a law, ordinance or policy, its members have a bully pulpit two Mondays a month from which they can spotlight housing issues.

If the Housing Committee is going to be silent on housing issues, then why have the committee in the first place?