Concord residents air grievances about troubled properties
The property on Washington Street. The one on Jackson Street. The other on Union, and on North State, and on Wall, and South Spring and Monroe. The time a man urinated on top of a car. When a fight broke out. When a car pulled up and a limp body was flung out of a passenger door.
For a little more than an hour last night, a sort of collective catharsis washed through the Green Street Community Center in Concord. What began as a discussion about a potential city ordinance quickly grew into an airing of grievances by city residents who claim to be fed up with properties in their neighborhoods that they say have devolved into hotbeds of disruptive and illicit activity.
As several of more than 40 attendees shared their stories, Kathy Conners, a longtime resident of Cambridge Street, stood and watched. She seemed pleased. After all, this was just the reaction she was hoping for.
“I look at this meeting as the beginning of a discussion that Concord really needs,” said Conners, who organized the event.
Two months ago, Conners wrote a formal complaint to city councilors about a four-unit apartment complex that abuts her property. The property, 74 Rumford St., had become a blight on the neighborhood, an oasis for criminals, drug dealers and transient individuals, she said. The police have responded to the complex at least 125 times and arrested more than 30 people there in the past five years.
Since June, Conners has managed to amass a small following in her campaign to root out problem properties and perhaps one day establish a network of community watch groups.
“I walk these neighborhoods,” Conners said last night. “I seem them, and it’s obvious.”
The message she got last night was resounding: She’s not alone.
“I’m not in a position to move, nor do I want to move,” commented one resident, who said he lived at a different address on Rumford Street and had concerns about a neighbor. He asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. “My daughter is starting first grade,” he said.
The solution now on the table is an ordinance that would require landlords of properties where repeated nuisances occur to meet with authorities and agree to specific, timely remediations, or face possible fines. Councilors have been looking at two models already in place in Maine. One ordinance, in place in Bangor, defines nuisances as loud music, loud gatherings, loud noises that travel beyond the property line, fights or confrontations on the property, or other similar activities.
The public safety committee will meet Sept. 8 to decide whether to recommend that the city adopt a similar measure.
“The issue is (the police and code enforcement officials) don’t really seem to have the tool that fits this problem,” said Byron Champlin, Ward 4 councilor. “It’s like they need to screw a screw, but they only have a hammer.”
Allan Herschlag, Ward 2 councilor, emphasized that the intent would not be to penalize all landlords.
“One of the things that I hope will come out of the safety committee . . . is that there are some end protections for responsible landlords,” he said. “And that gives them the opportunity to remove tenants much more quickly without having to go through a protracted process and an expensive process.”
Jon Kelly, who has property on Rumford Street, said he’s never had a problem with his tenants, but does have concerns about how hard it might be get rid of them if he did.
“If I was to have to go through an eviction, I would need to hire a lawyer,” Kelly said. “The lawyer I like is 200 an hour. But sometimes the tenants qualify for a free lawyer. So now I’m kind of like somebody who fights the tobacco companies – it’s my limited financial resources versus their unlimited legal resources. So the only rational thing for me to do in that situation is give up.”
Joanne Bates, a resident and former corrections employee, called on the attendees to “do more community policing.”
“We have to go out for walks, sit on our stoops, talk to the mail carrier,” she said. She said after reading a recent article about 74 Rumford St. she began walking by it six times a day, “so that I could watch them,” she said.
“And they knew, somebody was watching them,” Bates said. “And they were uncomfortable. People who are afraid hide. People who are unafraid live.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)