Germantown civic-group meeting centers on dealing with ‘bad neighbors’

When state Rep. Stephen Kinsey went to the Duval Improvement Association (DIA) monthly meeting on Tuesday, a discussion about ways his office could better serve the Germantown community ended up focusing on complaints about bad neighbors.

Primarily, attendees spoke about vacant properties within the group’s geographic area, which spans Wayne Avenue to West Johnson Street, McCallum Street and West Washington Lane.

Absentee neighbors

Homeowners Blakely Minton and Earl Guydon mentioned their problems with a specific vacant house on their street.

According to both Minton and Guydon, the property located at 356 W. Duval St. has been vacant for many years. Today, it features boarded-up windows and evidence of mice while being the source of water which flows into Guydon’s basement.

“I’ve never lived in a neighborhood where I felt so taken care of by my neighbors, and I think we all deserve to have the respect of properties that are taken care of,” Minton said.

“This is our investment. This is our livelihood,” she continued. “I’m a real estate agent, I know this is affecting our property value each and every one of us.”

Having moved into Germantown in 2006, Minton and her husband now have two children. Minton told Kinsey she has written e-mails and called the city Licenses and Inspection office about it.

“I [and] my kids look out the window everyday to this property with boarded-up windows that are broken repeatedly,” Minton said. “Sometimes, we see activity inside and I don’t know what it is.”

A groundbreaking vet with neighborhood problems

Guydon — a World War II veteran who was part of the first class of black soldiers to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps — has lived in Germantown for more than 30 years.

He said that issues with the neighboring property have forced him to spend more than $200 in vermin poison and other materials to stop water flowing into his basement.

Guydon said that he spoke with property owner Jay Baker about it. According to Guydon, Baker said that he thought the water had been turned off since he hadn’t paid a bill in four years.

“When you see it from the outside, it doesn’t look anything like it does inside,” Guydon said. “The city doesn’t have any two trash trucks that would hold the trash on the first floor. You can’t open the front door. You have to turn [sideways] to get into the door.”

Baker, who is current with his property taxes, was not at Tuesday’s meeting. NewsWorks could not reach him for comment Wednesday.

Elected-official intervention

After receiving phone calls from DIA members, Kinsey met with Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass to discuss ways in which the state and city government could help frustrated residents.

Ray Jones, a Bass-office staffer, explained to the group that several legal issues prevent the city from simply seizing the property.

“The gentleman is right on the edge,” Jones said. “In terms of paying his taxes, he’s doing just a little bit. The way it works at L&I, they have to give you at least 30 days to look into a violation. Apparently, he is doing that and that’s why we can’t get him on the violation piece.

“It’s still private property. The city can only get access to private property in extreme circumstances. If the foundation was not sound, if it was about to fall, we could get to it. If it was a drug issue, we could have access. But a person who is a bad neighbor, who is a hoarder, who is not doing what they’re suppose to do, that’s a little of a slippery slope.”

Other properties

A list of other vacant properties on Duval and Sherman streets was given to Kinsey, who proposed looking into the Conveyership Program.

“If you have a property that’s in your area, the taxes are being paid on the property, but the property itself is not being kept up, you can actually take the homeowner to court,” Kinsey told the group.

For her part, Minton told NewsWorks that she was appreciative.

“To be honest, I’m not the most active DIA member. I have two young kids, I work full-time and my husband’s a teacher,” she said. “Seven o’clock on a Tuesday night is dinner, bathtime and bed. So it means I made a point to come here. Because [Kinsey] is here, I hope that there’s going to be some follow through.”

Other issues

Beyond the vacant-property discussion, Leah Hood discussed the ongoing construction on Greene Street, problems with contractors leaving streets a mess and how can she get her cobblestone street deemed historical.

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