'It's making a difference. Residents are developing a whole new sense of community.'
--Madalyn Blake, community development administrator
Mabel Krieger, a 73-year-old La Crescenta woman, admits that her home "was kind of worn down" when she received a notice from the City of Glendale last year which gave her 60 days to repair safety violations and to clean up her dilapidated property.
The house had become an eyesore in the quiet neighborhood of 1920s-era homes along Buena Vista Avenue just south of Montrose Shopping Park. The stucco paint was falling off in chunks, the water heater was improperly connected, sewer lines repeatedly backed up, wiring in the house was frayed, the tile roof leaked and the garage was near collapse.
"It was a disaster and I knew it," said Krieger, who lives with her daughter. "But I didn't have the money to fix it up," she said, explaining that she lives on a meager fixed income.
Krieger is among owners of more than 1,700 structures in Glendale who have received "beautification notices" since the city began scouring neighborhoods for health and safety code violations in September, 1984, and forcing residents, under the threat of fines or a jail sentence, to make repairs.
The program has angered many property owners like Krieger, who said she felt that "the city was intruding into my private affairs." Some complain that the forced repairs create undue financial hardships, requiring them to either borrow money or spend their savings.
The program also has had the unintended side effect of leading to the sale of some low-income rentals and the dislocation of renters whose homes are demolished and replaced with more expensive apartments and condominiums.
Nevertheless, Glendale officials are hailing the inspection program as a success.
"People are planting flowers and fixing up their houses and whole neighborhoods are being greatly improved," said Madalyn Blake, the city's community development administrator who oversees the program. She said the results are especially noticeable in areas of south Glendale which were considered blighted.
"It's making a difference," she said. "Residents are developing a whole new sense of community."
In addition, officials said, some of the financial pain is eased by low-interest federally sponsored loans that can be obtained by property owners to make needed repairs. Krieger, for example, eventually obtained such a loan for $19,000 and completed the repairs, but not until she had fought the city for almost a year.
Previously, the city had enforced code regulations only when tenants or neighbors complained about substandard conditions. But three years ago, city studies estimated that more than 2,500 structures in Glendale lacked adequate heating, plumbing or were overcrowded.
In response, the city began to inspect neighborhoods at random on a door-to-door basis. Most of the neighborhoods in the city now have been surveyed once and inspectors are returning to neighborhoods for the second time,
"It's unacceptable in this city to have housing that is a hazard to life, health and welfare," said Councilman Larry Zarian, who spearheaded the program and, during his term as mayor, succeeded in January in getting a second full-time inspector hired. Zarian also said that homes with peeling paint and overgrown lawns "are a blight on the neighborhood."
Under the program, yellow tags asking that the owner or tenant permit inspection of the interiors are posted on homes that have exterior code violations or appear to be run down. Once the inspection is done, or even if the owner refuses, a "beautification notice" may be sent listing the improvements that are required.
Blake said an assumption is made that properties that appear neglected on the outside probably are neglected on the inside, too, and have health and safety hazards. If necessary, the city can obtain a court order to inspect buildings. Typically, inspectors check the interior of about 10% of the units in any apartment building suspected of having safety violations.
City officials point out that more than 670 homes and apartments once deemed substandard have been repaired and beautified. But 178 others have been demolished--often old, single-family homes destroyed to make way for apartment buildings and condominiums--which has led to displacement of hundreds of families in need of low-cost housing.
City officials said they try to find new housing for those in need, but no records are kept on the number of families forced to seek housing outside of the city.
Hundreds of other cases, where owners are unable to, or have refused to comply with the city's orders, have been sent to the city attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution. Penalties can include fines of up to $500 and/or six months in jail.