Safe/Quality Housing Recommendations: A Matter of Trust


Soon the DeKalb city council will be deciding what steps to take, if any, in response to recommendations made by the Safe/Quality Housing Task Force and by its own staff. They include proposals for a “disorderly house” ordinance, issuance of Crime Free Lease addenda, and regulations for the registration, licensing and inspection of rental properties.

As longtime readers know, licensing and inspection of rental properties — and new revenues to pay for them — are dreams that have danced in the heads of city administrators for several years. The question is whether such initiatives would be worth the cost to residents, especially the group living here who’ve been walloped by the economy and made to watch the TIF boondoggle at the same time.

Obviously I’ve been suspicious from the get-go — and not buying the new crop of staff arguments for licensing and inspection, either.

First off, can we please stop comparing the City of DeKalb to the Village of Mt. Prospect? I understand that the attorney-consultants to the Housing Task Force know its workings very well, but Mt. Prospect is out of our league. The village only has 10,000 more people than we do, but an operating budget that is double DeKalb’s thanks to real estate worth about $5.5 billion. (DeKalb’s taxable property and taxable sales combined come to just $1.1 billion.) They can afford an army of inspectors. We can’t.

Can we also stop talking about taxing us for services we have no reason to believe we’ll benefit from. We once had 11 employees doing code enforcement until the slicing and dicing of that division began in 2008, yet even before the decimation there were many obvious, untended code enforcement issues apparent to even the most casual passers-by. I suspect at first city bosses more often deployed staff in new developments while the old neighborhoods were left to rot. After that they busied themselves with downtown lipstick-on-pigs projects while the neighborhoods were left to rot.

In other words, resource allocation has historically stunk.

You know what would have a positive impact on quality of housing and life in general for the maximum number of residents? One answer is better stormwater management and flood prevention.*

In this context you can color me less than sympathetic to the city’s preoccupation with giving itself access and authority to selectively peek into the interiors of our homes and other properties, much less its nerve in suggesting we bankroll such a venture. We have much more fundamental problems to solve, foremost a matter of trust.

*Perhaps someone could prevail upon the Citizens Community Enhancement Commission to restrain themselves from picking up things we don’t need so we’d have more money for stormwater management. Sure, such projects don’t seem sexy at first, but you’d be surprised how much easier it is to build your ideal brand when fewer neighbors are complaining about basements flooded with water and sometimes more.

By the way, are we still putting off, for financial reasons, the work on the Kish levees that the Army Corps of Engineers says we need?