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It’s Time To Reinvigorate The City Council’s Housing Committee

Formation of the Jamestown City Council’s Housing Committee 18 years ago was good in theory.

No one was happy with the condition of many of Jamestown’s neighborhoods. There was too much disinvestment, too little work being done to perform maintenance on homes that weren’t worth what their owners paid for them and, in some areas, increases in drugs, crime and city Housing Code violations that were truly concerning.

Something had to be done.

And in the right hands, the Housing Committee was effective. But the committee has never found the right mix to achieve the goals laid out in 2003 and 2004. It had a role in creating the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, but implementation of that plan was handed off to the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation. It at one time had a hand in dealing with neighborhood complaints, but that doesn’t happen much anymore. It’s tried its hand at pushing policy, but backlash from landlords brought an end to that.

So while neighborhoods are in a better place than they were, there is still much of the same old dissatisfaction with many of the same old issues. Too many people live in substandard housing. Too many landlords aren’t reinvesting in their properties, in part because too many tenants trash properties for landlords to want to throw good maintenance money after bad maintenance money. Home values have skyrocketed over the past two years, but who knows if those gains are real or pandemic-driven fool’s gold? Housing code issues are still prevalent in some neighborhoods. Lead poisoning is still as big an issue now as it was 18 years ago.

What should the Jamestown City Council’s Housing Committee be? It’s disappointing that nearly two decades after its creation, nobody seems to know. What we do know is there is still frustration, even for Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4 and current Housing Committee chairwoman, about housing conditions in Jamestown.

Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller asked Carrubba and Housing Committee members a couple of weeks ago what was on their agenda. It was a good question for which Carrubba and committee members had no good answer at the time. Carrubba is smart and she knows the housing struggles facing low- to moderate-income city residents and those with physical handicaps. We remain convinced Carrubba is the right council member to lead the Housing Committee. But committee members need to devote time and energy into fresh approaches.

We’d suggest moving meetings — even away from regular Monday night City Council nights — to allow for more time for open discussion. We’d also suggest planning a larger, group meeting with those who work on housing issues in the city, such as CHRIC, COI and the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, to have a lengthy public discussion that includes Mayor Eddie Sundquist, Development Director Crystal Surdyk and city code enforcement officials to publicly revisit the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Plan. What remains to be done? That document held much promise, but isn’t often discussed these days.

We harken back to Carolyn Bloomquist, the first chairwoman of the Housing Committee back in 2004, when she said “We want to see what we can do to help remedy the situation, find out where the brick walls are for inspectors when they go out, work at revising the code if necessary. That’s going to be a substantial job in and of itself. We can’t expect to have it done in a week or a day or a year.”

Let’s find the brick walls — and knock them down.

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