Remarks by Mayor James Ireton, Jr.
Salisbury Safe Streets Legislative Initiatives
August 2, 2010
I’d like to welcome our department heads, neighborhood leaders, law enforcement officials, and the citizens of Salisbury to the kick-off event for Salisbury Safe Streets Week.
When I ran for the office of mayor in 2009, I made making this city safer and improving its neighborhoods two of the main goals of my campaign. Today, I announce the 2010 Salisbury Safe Streets Legislation package as a needed effort to reach those goals.
In many ways, the City of Salisbury is gaining momentum in the fight against crime. The city has a 12.2% decrease in violent Type 1 crimes for 2010.
- Robberies are down 35% for 2010.
- Burglaries are down 18% for 2010.
- Motor Vehicle thefts are down 19% for 2010.
This legislative package is but one of the ways that this administration is fighting crime on our city’s streets. Our process is a holistic approach, and one that is showing results. Our other efforts over the past 14 months are worth noting:
We received 327K grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention that we are using to continue our Safe Streets Coalition. The 327 thousand dollars keeps Safe Streets officers on the streets and patrolling our neighborhoods effectively. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus dollars, we added 4 police officers to the streets of Salisbury.
The Crime Task Force efforts continue to focus on how to help in the training of unskilled workers, overcoming the roadblocks faced by our youth, improving the access to services for our citizens, and shutting down the hubs of illegal activity.
Our city departments are another part of our holistic approach. With unprecedented efficiency, our Neighborhood Services Task Force, with members from city and county departments, has identified properties and issues on our streets, and worked quickly to address the crime and blight that bring the property onto our radar in the first place.
So with all the work and efforts of the Safe Streets Coalition, the Crime Task Force, Neighborhood Services Task Force, our Neighborhood Roundtable, our work with neighborhood associations, and a mayor and five city council members, why is there still a struggle for peace and quiet in our neighborhoods? Why do the same police and code officials have to visit the same properties over and over? Why are homeowners and renters – the true victims of crime – continually pitted against one another?
Why? Because our city housing code works against us, not for us. Our housing code is antiquated, written to protect special interests, and is part of the cause of our crime problems. It’s part of the reason we struggle with attracting new residents into our neighborhoods, and it’s part of the reason our home values have declined.
Our city’s staff is doing its job as best it can under the antiquated code. Yet, our neighborhoods are still suffering, crime still permeates every corner of our city and the number of violations in this city are simply too high. For example:
- A March sweep through Camden found 345 SPD calls for service and 122 code violations
- April 2010 – Church Street sweep found 540 calls for service, 260 code violations
- A July list of top property offenders found 634 SPD calls and 330 code violations
- 2 people found dead in Parkside Apartments – 283 calls for service to Emory Court in the last 18 months
Last year our four neighborhood code enforcement officers logged 10,000 code violations. 10K code violations with 4 officers! Mr. Stevenson and I often hear that we don’t have enough code enforcement officers for Salisbury, yet I have come to have the exact opposite reaction. Clearly, we have too many code violations.
Enough I say, this documentation of excessive calls to SPD and excessive code violations, this drain on city resources and taxpayer money is cause for our citizens, both renter and homeowner, to say enough. Things must change, behavior must change and responsibility must be restored.
But the current city code just doesn’t meet today’s needs. With this legislation, we will take a long-needed step forward. This 2010 Safe Street Legislative Package is the first of many steps we will take to begin to clean up our housing code, clean up the slum and blight, to clean up our image as a city, and reduce our crime rate.
These initiatives are:
- The Community Association Empowerment Act of 2010. It provides a means for community associations, or the city, to abate nuisances created by properties used for the purpose of prostitution and related acts.
- The Crime Free Lease Addendum to be added to all new leases written in the city. It provides for the termination of tenancy for engaging in criminal activity or engaging in illegal or unlawful activity. Criminal convictions are not required to be in breach – verified calls for service are sufficient to establish cause for breach of lease. For years, rental owners have told us they are powerless to do anything about problem tenants. This legislation will give them the power, and the responsibility, to evict those who cause trouble and crime in our city.
- The Tenants’ Bill of Rights to be added to all new leases in the city. It will empower tenants by informing them how to contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, and their local Legal Aid Bureau. It also informs tenants of the maximum number of unrelated individuals allowed to occupy that rental unit. Ignorance of the law will no longer be an excuse to break it. That applies to renters as well as rental owners.
- Three Strikes Provisions: This will allow the city to recover a portion of the costs associated with the repeated calls for service to the SPD and NSCC. The responsibility to prevent violations at a property belongs to the landlord, and this city will hold them to it. The city will contact the property owner after 3 verified calls for service, directing the property owner to prevent further violations. The Crime Free Lease Addendum will give them the right to expel a problem tenant. If they don’t after three verified calls for service within 12 months, the following will occur:
On the 5th verified call: A $250 administrative fee will be charged,
and the owner must present a management plan to
avoid further calls.
On the 6th verified call within 12 months, there will be a $500 fee charged,
and the city will revoke or suspend registration of
the property for one year.
- Amortization – Requires non-conforming multi-family houses to conform to applicable zoning laws, laws that should have been conformed to in 1936, 1959, 1983, or 1991.
- 15.24.110 – Code Compliance sweeps of the city as authorized by the housing code to prevent blight and decay.
- BZA (Building & Zoning Appeals) Code – increase the burden of proof requirement that a dwelling is a legal use of a non-conforming use from 50% (preponderance of evidence) to 75% (clear and convincing evidence).
That’s what is in the legislation. Now, I ask for help and assistance in making Salisbury better. We must get this legislation voted on and passed by the City Council. The renters and homeowners of Salisbury are both saying – enough. It’s not a time for turf battles and stalling tactics. It’s time to make this city safer.
I want to talk directly to the three groups who are sure to have great interest in this legislation.
To the members of SAPOA: this city desires your help, but it will not wait for it. It is a shared responsibility we have to keep the citizens of this city, both renter and homeowner, safe. We, as a city government, do our best to provide police protection, fire protection, emergency medical assistance, parks, playgrounds, clean streets and working street lights.
But property owners must do their part to keep houses in our neighborhoods safe and in good standing with the city’s requirements. Clean streets aren’t enough – properties must be maintained by their owners. Houses with dozens of calls for service for our police department and code enforcement office, houses with too many people in too small a space, houses illegally being used with too many units help create as unsafe a neighborhood as any broken street light.
The city’s government and the mayor’s office have been criticized by many in the rental community in the past year. Yet, I say to the renters and homeowners that elected me that my stance has not changed. I will say again: Police your own, and the city of Salisbury won’t have to. If rental owners, homeowners, and renters follow the law, they won’t be subject to its consequences. But there will be no negotiations with those who fail to follow the law.
The vast majority of rental owners in this city provide safe, affordable housing to many of our city’s residents. But we will continue to strive for every house, apartment, townhome and living space in this city to be in good standing with this updated code. And if they’re not, this city will not shy away from its responsibilities and the city will take action. The legislation announced today will make the city’s housing code clearer and its consequences appropriate for the conditions our neighborhoods face today.
The City of Salisbury will clean up its neighborhoods and we’d like the cooperation of all property owners to do so. But we won’t wait for it.
To our renters and homeowners:
If we are to have a meaningful drop in our crime rates, if we are to restore neighborhoods that families want to live in, if we are to restore order in our most violent and decay ridden neighborhoods, if we are to feel safer on our streets, you must come forward and support this legislation. Do not wait. Make sure that your neighbors know that help has arrived. I remind our citizens that this is what I said I would do. I remind all that this is the direction the voters said to take.
And to the members of the City Council:
For too long, this city’s housing code had been a confusing mess of layer after layer of regulations added on and pieced together every couple decades to a code first written in 1936. When we added to housing and zoning codes in 1959, 1983, and 1991 we continued to piecemeal the code. We wrote laws that threw a bone to neighborhoods while they protected the rental industry at every turn. In the end though, the city never came up with a mechanism to make non-conforming houses conform. We simply never went back and took a count or mapped anything. We must rectify that mistake this year. The comprehensive approach being proposed will bring the city’s housing code into the 21st century, and it deserves action.
I will ask City Council President Louise Smith to bring this legislative package to the council as soon as possible. It is legislation that deserves a vote – not month after month of work sessions, reviews and study. We don’t need work sessions to know our housing code needs updating – we have plenty of legal bills that show that. We don’t need research to know the city needs the ability to recoup the cost of ridiculously high calls for service volumes.
We need this comprehensive, common-sense approach to making our city’s neighborhoods safer, and we need it now. I make this simple request of Council President Smith – let this legislation have an up-or-down vote, and let that vote happen before Thanksgiving.
The future of Salisbury doesn’t deserve to die in a collection of endless committee review sessions. If the council members wish to maintain the status quo, let them be on record. If they wish to support this comprehensive update of the city’s housing code, they deserve a chance to do so.
Council members have received the legislation within the past week. It is already scheduled for a worksession in September. I anticipate the members of the City Council will have questions and concerns, and we’re ready to answer them.
But this legislation deserves a vote before Thanksgiving. Do not let another winter start before we’ve tackled a problem almost 75 years in the making. I urge a vote on this legislation this fall.
In the end, the root cause of what hurts neighborhoods, the root cause of what hurts property owners, the thing that makes renters and homeowners feel unsafe – is bad behavior. The only thing the municipality has to address bad behavior is law. The City Council and I can choose to make history – or we can settle for the status quo. I choose for Salisbury to clean up its code, clean up its neighborhoods – I choose for Salisbury to make history. Thank you.