Do you drive past a Fairfield County home every day that looks dilapidated, unsafe, or unsightly? Is there garbage overflowing or does a house in your neighborhood look abandoned and unsafe?
The problem of taking care of blighted properties is costly and complicated for large municipalities like Bridgeport which demolished several buildings in the city's poorest neighborhoods since November.
On Jan. 16, the City of Bridgeport Office of Planning and Economic Development began the demolition of a building in the West End neighborhood whose owners had abandoned the property which was being used by squatters for illegal activities.
Complaints were filed by surrounding neighbors. The knock-down began after the Housing Authority gained possession.
After demolition, the site will be cleared, leveled, and bordered with ornamental fencing. The City of Bridgeport holds the lien on the property and the Housing Authority will reposition the site.
Just before Christmas, on Dec. 20, the city's Office of Economic Development began the demolition of abandoned buildings in Downtown North, located near the Middle and Golden Hill Street intersection.
The buildings have suffered partial collapse and, after being identified as a safety concern, the city began the $1.1 million-dollar demolition project to make way for a new public green space dubbed “Post Office Square.”
Most towns and cities in Fairfield County have a system in place to report and investigate blighted properties.
The City of Danbury's program to report blight in neighborhoods is handled by a 24/7 non-emergency 311 hotline established by Mayor Mark Boughton. CityLine 311 can be accessed via landline by dialing 311 or a cell phone by dialing 203-744-4311 or email to email@example.com.
The reports are handled by the UNIT (unified neighborhood inspection team) which is part of the City of Danbury Department of Neighborhood Services. The UNIT will conduct code enforcement inspections. This is a team effort as the UNIT works directly with the Health, Fire Marshal, Zoning, Building & Permit departments, said Taylor O'Brien, the public relations coordinator at Mayor's Office, City of Danbury.
The North End Bridgeport project will "finally make way to provide a beautiful public green space that compliments storefronts, historic building facades, and Downtown apartment-style living,” said Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim.
The Post Office Square will border restored and historic buildings; HSW Complex, the Blends Gallery, the Jayson Newfield Lofts, and the United States Postal Service on Middle Street.
Earlier, in November, the city had demolished a blighted property at 66 Reverse Street. The site was considered a condemnation demolition due to the owners’ abandonment of the property. Subsequently, the roof collapsed and the site was being used by squatters for illegal activities.
After demolition, the site was slated to be cleaned, leveled, and bordered with ornamental fencing.
The City will look to reposition the site, possibly as a home-ownership opportunity. The project is located across the street from another project undergoing street renovation and expansion: the Newfield Library.
The two projects, together, will heighten the quality of life in the East End community, according to Rowena White, a city spokesperson.
The house had been in disrepair for several years and the city had been trying to locate the owners who had vacated the premises and left the house abandoned.
"There were legal hoops that the city endured to reach the demolition stage. This included getting approval from the Condemnation Board, and then the procedure to move forward with demolition at the expense of the city. Then the property retains the lien. Because the house was abandoned it was used frequently by squatters and there was drug activity in and around the property," White said.
If Bridgeport residents see a property that is either severely blighted or seems to be abandoned, they should immediately notify the Blight Department, which is a division of the Health Department. Click here or call 203-576-7072. If they see illegal activity taking place, residents should notify the police department immediately.
If residents see illegal dumping they should take a picture of the vehicle plate and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
In Danbury, O'Brien said the enforcement of cleaning up blighted properties is "very dependent on the situation. We’ve seen instances where a resident cannot physically care for their property and some of our employees even pitched in to help the individual on their own time."
In its report to the City Council in December, available on the city's website, the department said it sends out orders to property owners seeking remediation for various issues, and in most cases, the property owners respond right away with corrective action.
In some cases, very few, the action is slow to be taken and our department needs to spend additional time reinspecting and following up to ensure that action is taken. In cases where there is no action being taken, fines accrue and the UNIT submits for those fines to be assessed as a judgment against the property.
Many of the violations reported in Danbury - there were 70 in 2019- involve unsightly situations such as overflowing trash dumpsters and property neglect.
Of the three notices of violations written by the UNIT in December, each had trash violations and one of these also had unregistered and inoperable vehicles that were ordered for removal.
In 2019, there as an instance of a blighted building taken down in March. It was an over century-old building on Main Street by the Still River which was vacant for nearly 10 years, The News-Times reported.