November 9, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Crackdown on slumlords needed
By†Jody Reese

Our city and state governments have spent a lot of time and energy cracking down on nightlife and clubs over the past six months.

The nightclub Omega has been closed. The nightclub Electra was prevented from opening and Envy has had its liquor license revoked. On top of that, patrols have been added downtown and more liquor inspectors have been assigned to Manchester.

A series of nightlife-related stabbings and a general feeling that partying was getting out of hand prompted the crackdown under Mayor Bob Baines. Mayor Frank Guinta continued that.

While this might be an effective way to decrease alcohol related fights, it does little to address the wider problems of crime in the city. Of course, more police would help as will more comprehensive long-term poverty and education programs. But one area of the crime puzzle has been completely ignored by city and state government: slumlords.

During a recent tour of the center city on the east side and West Side around West High School, it was apparent that many properties were left to become drug dens and hangouts for thugs. These apartment buildings were overflowing with trash and dumped furniture. Windows were smashed.

I understand it can be hard to manage an apartment block or rooming house, especially one where the owner made it as an investment. The run up in values of apartment buildings in Manchester led a lot of out-of-town investors to scoop up property here. In many cases these people paid too much, hoping that values would continue to rise, so they could sell quickly at a profit. Unfortunately, the market for apartments in Manchester has rolled back prices, locking many investors into becoming longer-term landlords than they had hoped. The problem with that is that many of these investors either donít have the money to keep up properties or donít want to invest further in a losing property.

The result is that more and more apartments in Manchesterís poorest neighborhoods fall into decline. Good tenants are harder to find, leaving only criminals and unfortunate residents who canít afford anything else.

Just like the city identified and targeted nightclubs with excessive police calls, it can too target apartment buildings that are magnets of crime. Manchester police are already doing some of that with their high-intensity patrols that tend to focus on neighborhoods or apartment blocks that police know are crime hot spots.

But now itís time for the mayor and aldermen to step up enforcement of these apartments and pass new rules, if necessary, to force slumlords out. If itís good for the nightclubs, it should be good for apartment landlords.

We canít expect police to continue to fight crime without city officials helping by eliminating the criminalsí habitat. When you go out to destroy mosquitoes itís not enough to spray, standing water must also be removed; Itís the same with criminals.