One Man’s Problem
Recently we had the opportunity to attend a local Board of Supervisors meeting in our neck of the woods. This Board is the policy-making agency for the county in which we reside. It addresses complex issues with far-reaching impact such as transportation and development or seemingly minor issues such as the abatement of a home (in its jurisdiction) that is blighted, an eyesore or poses a health and/or safety hazard to the neighborhood or community.
Ironically, on the day that we attended the meeting, scattered among the scores of agenda items requiring the Supervisors’ consideration were three single family homes facing abatement — that’s a fancy word for being boarded up and then ultimately torn down — for the reasons stated earlier.
Owners of the properties in question, neighbors and county building officials were present to debate the issues in the hopes of finding a resolution. Though the atmosphere wasn’t as sensational as The Jerry Springer Show – as can be the case when a very personal item such as one’s home is the object of public scrutiny – it did feel a bit like an episode of Dr. Phil. The only thing missing was a free gift under everyone’s chair. Okay, we may be doing a bit of our own sensationalizing, but truth be told that the public airing of one’s laundry is never particularly comfortable.
In a nutshell, the owners were there to suggest that their properties were not nearly as bad as the neighbors would lead them to believe. In contrast, the neighbors (armed with photos of the homes in question) took the position that the conditions were far worse than even their photos could convey. The building officials remained on the sideline to interpret building code, decipher what they had discovered during visits to the properties and generally answer questions posed by all parties.
The meeting was a clear reminder to us of how what we do – or DON’T DO to our homes not only affects us, but it can have a far reaching affect on neighboring homes and (thanks to the domino affect) a community at large. And we’re not just referring to comfort and value – it goes beyond that. We’re talking about health, safety and, as one of the neighbors put it, “quiet enjoyment.”
For example, one of the homes scheduled for abatement suffers from a litany of maladies, which include a leaking roof, missing sections of siding, exposed electrical wiring, and a leaning un-reinforced brick chimney.
One might say; “Of what concern is it to a neighbor if the home next door has a leaking roof or a leaning chimney?” Lots!
A leaking roof can be devastating to the structural integrity of a home. Wood and water don’t mix. The result is rot that can become so pervasive that a home can be especially vulnerable in an earthquake. Keep in mind that it’s not the seismic activity that destroys homes and neighborhoods; it’s the fires from toppling water heaters and broken gas lines. Even the best anchors and fasteners don’t have a chance in rotten wood.
Another potentially catastrophic condition which results from wet, rooting wood is termite infestation. And it’s no secret that once termites make a meal out of a home, they can make a feast out of other homes in the neighborhood at they forage for food.
And what of the missing siding and exposed electrical? More potential for water damage and an electrical fire that can wipe out the home and neighborhood. The leaning chimney, among all of the deficient conditions, probably poses the greatest clear and present danger to the homeowner and the neighboring home. Depending upon the severity of its condition; it can be toppled by a strong wind, which can potentially injure or kill someone in its path. Having a home with peeling paint or a poorly kept yard is one thing; having a home that acts as a weapon that can inflict harm or infringe upon one’s quiet enjoyment is quite another!
We wondered why someone would allow their home to fall into such disrepair. We concluded that, in our experience, it was either financial or lack of knowledge. After all, people do fall on hard times, lose their jobs, become overextended or suffer financially due to ill health or other unforeseen circumstances. The last thing on their mind is fixing a leaking roof, repairing damaged siding or fixing up the yard. It may be that some people are so traumatized by their circumstances that they are neither able to acknowledge or act upon the obvious.
As we listened to the homeowners speak in defense of their homes, we realized that there was indeed a lack of knowledge on their part as to the effect that their deteriorating homes have on their neighbors – beyond the obvious. By the same token, the neighbors’ concerns about the appearance and safety of their homes and neighborhood were both legitimate and compelling. We are by no means defending negligent or irresponsible homeowners.
As the story goes, although not everyone lived happily ever after, some very good things came out of the meeting, which may result in a happy ending after all. The owners of the blighted homes learned what anyone in a similar position should know; there is a direct connection between the condition of their homes and that of their neighbors – appearance aside.
They also learned that help is available through no-interest loans and grants that can be used to restore the integrity of their homes. And they learned that there are national, regional and local volunteer organizations such as Rebuilding Together (http://rebuildingtogether.org) that lend a hand to help people have a warm, safe and dry home.
Most importantly, everyone learned that, just as one man’s problem had become a problem for others; solving the problem for one man will act as a solution for all.
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