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Take A Look Around... (Part 2)
To continue the saga of housing conditions in New Albany and the associated problems, I want to start by addressing the issue of upkeep of owner-occupied housing. Later, we'll move on to rental properties and the reasons we had to wait so long for an Ordinance Enforcement Officer.
As we've discussed here before, the economic health of many families in New Albany is poor. According to the 2000 Census data, in 1999 more than 11% of families were living in poverty. That's more than 1,140 families folks. Just less than 30% of families with children under 5 years old are below the povery line. A lot, huh?
Want to talk about single mothers? A staggering 58% with children under 5 years of age are poverty stricken.
Do you think things have gotten better in New Albany in the last 5-6 years? Or, do you think maybe we've lost a few good employers, and gained a few more low-income renters who have headed this way from Louisville, with drug labs in tow?
What about the upper income families you ask? How many do you suppose have stayed in the inner-city? How much new development has been occuring in the County in the last 5 years? C'mon folks, use your heads. The picture isn't getting any brighter. We've all noticed the increase in 'For Sale' signs and 'For Rent' signs. They're popping up all over the place. I would bet money (what little I have), that in a 10 minute trip through New Albany, a person could easily count 40-50 available housing units of one description or another.
There are approximately 16,000 households in the City of New Albany. The median household income is (listen closely Timmy) less than $35,000 in the City. More than a third of all households earn less then $25,000 per year. The median mortagage cost is $814 per month, and we still have to allow for taxes, insurance, utilities, car payments, childcare, groceries, clothing, and other miscelaneous costs.
To make things worse, it is maddening that the City exacerbates these situations by continuously throwing more fees and taxes on the citizens, especially property owners, to recover funds that were mis-appropriated, or to create funds for projects that citizens have no voice in. Backing bonds for non-optional recreational projects with property taxes, then telling us they cannot continue to fund garbage pickup, is enough to make a person want to go up to that third floor and smack somebody.
I would really like for someone to explain to me just what in the hell they mean by assessing a Stormwater "user fee" onto our water bills!? Along with multiple sewage rate increases for $41 million in repairs, and the system still isn't working right, the water bill is quickly becoming a major household expense. Now, we are hearing the rumblings of another impending sewer rate hike as raw sewage is still spewing into the streets at alarming rates with every measurable rainfall.
To top it all off, now they want to privatize sanitation, or at least convince us that a 50% raise in those rates will be necessary. Frankly, I think we'll wind up paying that no matter which way it goes. Only, maybe not for the first year. After all, we have to pay for those trucks they are going to GIVE AWAY. Furthermore, we have been paying a recycling fee for, how many years now? The problem is, we are not actually recycling. Where is that money going?
To add insult to injury, the Mayor has decided that they all deserve raises in the next budget! Meanwhile, for the common citizen, the gap between paychecks is widening with virtually every resolution that is pushed through Council.
Given these circumstances, I think it's safe to say that an average household in the City of New Albany is spending most, if not all, of their monthly income just keeping up with the bills. Let alone having lump sums of money left over for major housing repairs. Look around at what is happening.
This is a sad fact of life here people. We have a huge portion of our population that is not making it when it comes to large expenditures for acquiring a home, or the necessary maintenence of a home already acquired. There are people in need of a little help, a bit of understanding, and a better chance of improving their lot in life economically.
If the administration, or anyone else for that matter, cannot understand why the citizenry is going to continuously show up and ask the hard questions of every decision that is being made that affects the money that flows from household budgets into the dirty hands of the political machine in New Albany, then they are assuming we are complete idiots and easy marks for more money to finance their multiple City paychecks, their City vehicles, and their City cell phones.
When I hear certain people criticize the conditions of some homes, and simply assume that the owner is just lazy, or sloppy, or indifferent to standards of upkeep, it infuriates me. What I see is someone who is stuck in an impossible situation, and just needs a little help. It is callous and cold-hearted to simply suggest they should give up their homes if they cannot afford to keep things in as good condition as the neighbors would like to see. Most inner-city neighborhoods are mixed income neighborhoods. That means the very well off may live just down the street from the not so well off. We are all neighbors. What happens at my house effects your house.
One program I have always hoped to accomplish with Neighborhood Associations is to find ways to help our neighbors keep their homes in good repair by making arrangements with contractors to take on young apprentices, who will work at reduced rates, and get costs subsidized with grant dollars. Eligible residents could have repairs done at reduced costs, while youths are learning a lucrative trade. This would go a long way towards keeping up appearances in the neighborhood, creating new jobs, and reducing poverty. A very good investment if you ask me, as it would also help to stabilize property values, and keep everyone in safe and decent housing. A pretty good return for the dollars invested.
Could we dare think the City might utilize some of the funding it receives, such as EDIT, CDBG, TIF, or UEZ targets to accomplish something so integral to economic development as stable, well conditioned, housing and neighborhoods would be?
Therefore, we must do all we can to stop the administration from squeezing every last drop of income out of the households of New Albany. Otherwise, we'll just keep on sliding down the slippery slope of poverty that is engulfing our City.