OSWEGO, NY – The city’s recent efforts to crack down on landlords whose properties are in need of repair due to severe code violations, or are delinquent in their taxes or water bills came under fire Monday night.
At the council’s public session, two speakers pointed out while the initiative was well-intentioned, it was having unwanted repercussions.
Valerie Donovan is a teacher in the city school district.
She said she applauds the city’s efforts to crack down on landlord code violations. However, those efforts have had some undesirable ramifications, she added.
“I do not feel it is being done in a responsible, compassionate way,” she told the council. “Is there a plan to help the families that currently are or will be homeless?”
A family she is very familiar with became homeless following the first wave of crackdowns. They have been seen walking in the pouring rain with a ‘tent’ over their shoulders, she said of the mother, father and their young children.
The young student falls asleep in class and asks for food throughout the school day, she said.
Displaced families are referred to an area hotel, five miles away from any gas station or grocery store, she said.
“They pay their rent. They are the victims,” she said. “I know this is not your intent.”
She urged the city to offer some sort of emergency services.
Sue Matthews, a Scriba resident who owns property in Oswego, asked the councilors if they knew something like this would happen, before they voted.
If someone is being evicted, they must receive 30 days notice, she said.
Mayor Billy Barlow pointed out that blight housing can be seen in just about every corner of the Port City. The focus on stricter code enforcement, he said, will help clean up Oswego.
There hasn’t been any real code enforcement in many years, he said, adding that now the city is “clamping down” on negligent landlords.
“We’ve made some minor legislative changes in our code up to this point,” he said.
Historically, the negligent landlords would ignore the letters sent out by the city citing the problems – “In a sense, no cooperation from the landlords,” he said.
The city is looking to “enforce the minimum housing standards, not Mayor Barlow’s housing standards, not the city code housing standards – but the NYS Housing Standards,” he said. “We’re looking to hold landlords accountable to the bare minimum.”
The city doesn’t evict people, the mayor said.
“The notion that we show up and tell tenants to leave is just not true,” he said.
Mayor Barlow said he has been on some code inspections and seen firsthand just how bad some places are.
The only time someone is displaced, “which has been extremely minimal to this point,” the only time is if a person’s life, health or safety is in eminent threat, he explained.
“It’s mostly for tenants’ rights. It’s not fair to the tenants … who get charged $400, $500, $600, $700, $800 or $900 a month in rent to live in some conditions that do not meet the minimum safety housing standards in New York State,” the mayor continued.
The only time you get a response from some landlords is when you hit them in the pocketbook, he said.
Displacing families is a last resort the mayor said, adding that the city will continue to make improvements and make the system better.