Dec 02

Let’s assume the “broken windows” theory is correct.  It makes sense – order begets order, chaos and disarray breeds more chaos.  It makes sense logically, whether or not you can quantify the results I’ll leave to those much smarter than I.

However,  Milwaukee attempts to repurpose the theory as an argument for greater rental housing code enforcement and nuisance enforcement aimed primarily at rental housing.  In doing so our city has undermined the true message, which is: For the broken windows theory to produce results an entire neighborhood must be held to a standard.  The researchers use “neighborhood order” to describe the goal.

The article is primarily about police and neighbor intervention into petty crime creates order that reduces other petty crime and larger problems.  The words landlord, rent, code enforcement, building inspection do not appear anywhere in the article. Yet, to hear Milwaukee officials speak of the broken window theory, they frame it as a landlord’s responsibly.

A walk down 5th Place, the original target for the expansion of the RIP (rental inspection program), will show a far greater number of owner occupied housing in serious disrepair* than rental houses.  Milwaukee senior assessor Mary Hennen stated under oath a couple of years ago similarly that owner occupied housing in these neighborhoods are often in worse condition than rentals.

As an apparent precursor to the RIP proposal , on September 3rd and 4th,2014 DNS sent a squadron of five inspectors down Fifth Place for a block sweep.  Although the inspectors were able to see and write up some fairly minor problems on rental homes, amazingly when it came to the owner occupied houses on this street these five inspectors missed a dozen failed roofs, half a dozen failed porches, a couple of chimneys that looked about to fall and one house that is failing structurally.  Sixteen owner occupied properties in total that were as bad or worse than the seventeen rentals on the street that received orders. They also missed the two abandoned structures that should have been sent to raze, properties with actual broken windows.  My first two trips down the block had city lots strewn with trash.  I’ll guess that they were afraid someone would point that out in a RIP hearing.  They were clean on my third and forth trip.

Of the two properties that I saw blatant drug dealing coming from on three of my trips down the block this fall, one was owner occupied and the other owned by a guy who lives in the district on 15th and Cleveland. Far from the stereotypical absentee landlord.

If the RIP as well as other code initiatives are truly about stabilizing the neighborhoods, then plans must be in place to address the owner occupied and city owned properties that also drag down the neighborhood.

Tim Ballering

Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

*I consider serious disrepair as failed roofs, dangerous porches, crumbling chimneys and structural failure.

On Nov 30, 2014, on the ApartmentAssoc Yahoo Group  Bill Lauer wrote:

The previous article entitled “Broken Windows” really isn’t about broken windows.  It is about a theory that first showed up in the early 1980s [Link] and influences many of today’s social policies that impact our businesses every day.  Researchers in New York parked a car with no license plates on it, on a busy street. In a very short period of time, everything of value was stripped from it. Likewise, if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. They concluded that somehow the disrepair brought more disrepair.  Likewise, if crimes like jaywalking and panhandling are allowed, then more felonious crimes will follow.

The recent public hearings on the expansion of the Rental Inspection Program indicate several inner-city alders believe that because certain neighborhoods are run down, that crime is attracted to those neighborhoods.  But if memory serves me correctly, these same neighborhoods had huge crime problems before the neighborhoods were runned down.  Could it be that something else attracted the criminal element? Could it be true that because criminals do not maintain property very well that over time, neighborhoods end up in disrepair? They see the disrepair as the fault of greedy landlords, instead of seeing the landlords as the victims of the criminals.

One Alder literally said that the RIP was a tool to break up these “hot spots” of criminal activity. This strategy scatters criminal activity into surrounding neighborhoods rather than deal with the problem where it is. The mayor’s budget hires more building inspectors and reduces the number of armed police, which is contrary to the original research which says that police presence was needed to make positive change.

For the last 20 years, as “hot spots” break up and houses get bulldozed, and criminals need housing, they move into unsuspecting neighborhoods. That is why we are seeing crime increase (again) in Bay View, West Allis, Sherman Park, St, Joe’s area, just to name a few. The strategy employed in the RIP has not worked. But a new generation of politicians refuse to learn the lessons of the past and want to try this stuff again with a new name. They continue to make the buildings the problem rather than the people who live there.

The article is a long read but makes very interesting points that are useful in our discussions with our politicians.  It gives some insight into the crazy policies that are coming from city hall. But most importantly it points to the need for landlords to organize and become vocal about our experience working in Milwaukee.

 Bill Lauer

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