Lorain City Council last week approved spending $120,000 of Community Development Block Grant money to contract with the Lorain City Health Department for building inspection.
Four workers from the health department will join two city building inspectors to spread out to neighborhoods looking at vacant and occupied buildings for code violations. The top 10 list of code violations include weeds, accessory buildings such as sheds; junk cars; non visible address numbers; roofs and drainage; stairs, decks, porches and balconies; and windows and door frames.
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The program drew praise from Jim Long, president of the Lorain Growth Corp. He said he has advocated such a program for four years.
“Lorain Growth is behind the city 100 percent in this endeavor and the quicker it is implemented the better,” Long said. “The city has to show pride in itself and its appearance, before you can expect the residents and visitors to express community pride in Lorain.”
Improved maintenance also will show off the unique architecture on city homes and commercial buildings, Long said.
“Every aspect of a revitalization project needs a first step in the process,” Long said. “This one is enormous for us.”
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he hopes to have them out as early as this month.
One thing is certain: The inspectors will be busy.
City officials agree the problem is corroding Lorain’s neighborhoods.
Lorain building inspectors so far have completed about 1,700 inspections this year. In 2011 they completed about 3,000 inspections, including checking for tall grass, said Richard Klinar, chief building official for the city.
One city survey found one section in central Lorain has about 189 homes, according to figures from Rey Carrion, acting director of Lorain’s Community Development Department.
Of those, 59 were vacant and 13 were inconclusive, amounting for 38 percent of the area, Carrion said. Many of the remaining properties also did not meet current property standards, he said.
Loraine Ritchey, co-chairwoman of the Charleston Village Society preservation group, also compiled a report for the city administration and council.
On 4th Street, among 15 homes, eight were owner-occupied, three were empty and four were rental homes in varying states of repair, said Ritchey. As for the empty homes, one was foreclosed twice and two were derelict, she added.
The new program takes aim at residential properties, whether they are vacant or occupied by owners or tenants.
“I kind of have mixed feelings about it,” said Kent N. Sutton, owner of KTS Enterprises LLC and Sutton Rentals LLC, which operates about 150 rental units in Lorain.
“I’m not sure it’s not an overkill,” Sutton said. “At the same time, I understand we have a housing problem in the city of Lorain.”
Housing enforcement goes deeper than just sending more inspectors out to look at houses, Sutton said. City citations might have greater effects than anticipated for landlords or homeowners, he said.
An unexpected expense — such as a mandate to fix a roof — could force a property owner into foreclosure, Sutton said.
Lorain also has lost population, Sutton said. He compared the city’s population in 1980 to now.
In 1980, Lorain had 75,416 residents, compared to a population of 64,097 in 2010, according to figures from the U.S. Census.
“You can see why we have literally hundreds of vacant houses,” Sutton said. “We simply have more houses than we have people.”
George Rafailedes, a retired Lorain school teacher, moved to his Missouri Avenue home in 1980. A neighboring home has been vacant for more than three years, and Rafailedes said that home’s lawn looks good because it is maintained by a landscaper hired by its new owner — a bank in India.
But the home’s shingles are coming off and it has boarded windows, he said.
“You look past the lawn and look at the house, it’s in pretty bad shape,” Rafailedes said.
Additional inspections “definitely” will help, Rafailedes said, and enforcement is the key.
It was unclear if the actions this year would be a one-shot program or if they will continue next year, Rafailedes said.
“They have to do something about it,” he said. “We have laws on the books to stop a lot of things. The problem is enforcement. If there’s rules on the books you’ve got to have people enforcing them.”