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Show me the slumlord's number

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

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Shame is a powerful tool. It used to hover as the invisible regulator of civic and civil behavior. But we have become wimpy, afraid to call people out for doing irresponsible and destructive things.

Maybe it was when we stopped seeing ourselves as part of a larger community. Maybe the bad side of peer pressure crushed our resolve to exercise the upside of it.

But it's a new day in the 'burgh: a new city law is being proposed to put the scarlet letter on slumlords, and if this law is enacted, shame couldn’t come to a more deserving group of people.

This morning, City Councilman Bill Peduto announced his proposed legislation that would allow the city to post large signs in front of the 10 properties whose owners are deemed the biggest scofflaws — those who have been cited multiple times by the Bureau of Building Inspection and convicted in housing court but still not addressed their violations.

Here’s what I love: The signs will give the neighborhood all the information it needs to contact the property owner — his/her name, telephone number and home address.

The names and contact information of chronic offenders will also be broadcast on the city’s cable channel.blight3

I’d worry about the backlash of harrassment complaints if this weren’t such a delicious development. Plus it has worked in other places as “Operation Red,” starting in Framingham, Mass. in 1997. It was also a pilot program here in 1998.

“For far too long problem property owners who often don’t even live in the city have gotten off with just a slap on the wrist – even with dangerous building code violations that could become serious public safety issues,” the councilman said.  “Framingham’s program, and Pittsburgh’s pilot program showed us that once these property owners know that they can no longer remain anonymous all of a sudden the problems disappear.  It’s time for us to put some real teeth behind our property maintenance laws.”

There are lots of properties that won’t be officially ratted out, but this inspires me to hope that numerous people out there will find out who owns the lesser eyesores that dot our landscape and defile our neighborhoods and post guerilla signs. This shadow project could be known as Operation Rat and a lot more rats would be outed.

As a champion of neighborhoods everywhere, I believe in the motto that if you can’t afford to fix it up, sell it to someone who can.

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