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Seniors Fight City Over Upkeep of Homes

Thursday, May 25, 2000 at 9:41 AM

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While many senior citizens dream of relaxing during their golden years, some in Cleveland are worried about whether they'll be fined or jailed for not fixing up their homes. 90.3's Yolanda Perdomo reports on how some are fighting with the city over the upkeep of their homes.

Yolanda Perdomo- Drive through Cleveland’s east side off 79th Street, and you can see lots of run down houses. Some of the older houses have paint peeling off them, with grass growing wild in the front and back yards. For 89 year old Gertrude Young, fixing up her home has become a full time job. Going through several envelopes she’s received from the city of Cleveland, she displays tickets, an arrest warrant, and a list of code violations; everything from steps that need to be repaired to peeling paint. She says she’s tried to talk to inspectors, but with no luck.

Gertrude Young- When she come by, she started telling me that the house needs painting. We painted it...and so the last time, about a month or so ago, when she come, I asked her, I said; could I sit down and talk with you?. No, talk to the judge. So I said there was no use saying anything to her if that’s the way she felt. And I still had to go to court. And at my age, I just can’t be running back to court. I’m doing everything I can. Its nothing that we’re doing to satisfy her.

YP- Repair costs come out of Young’s pocket because she wasn’t aware of any city program to help with the costs. Judge Ray Pianca sees lots of people like Gertrude Young everyday in housing court. About 6,000 of the 11,000 cases that go before him each year involve health, safety, air pollution, or housing violations.

Ray Pianca- People when they come into court, they are surprised to find out that for lack of maintenance of their home, code violations, that they then become criminal defendants. They’re in the criminal justice system, and that’s surprising to them. Some have mental health issues, some have physical health issues. Some have financial issues.

YP- Aside from court costs, those with housing code violations face fines ranging from $65 to $1000 each day they are out of compliance. Young says she feels harassed when trying to fix her home while the city isn’t doing anything about the property next to hers. A burned out house without doors or windows; holes in the roof and a collapsed porch. Young says that house has been in shambles for more than a year. Cleveland City Council member Fannie Lewis says a third of her constituents are like Gertrude Young. Senior citizens on fixed incomes who are having problems getting their homes in order.

Fannie Lewis- The seniors who own their homes would fix them up if they could. You have the paint program, right? Everybody can get $300 worth of paint to paint their house. But what good is it if you don’t have anyone to paint it? It don’t even make sense...you have a lot of seniors in these homes who’s family is gone, they are by themselves. And the inspectors, almost like the police, have to write tickets. And I think that’s just asinine. I don’t think no senior who does not have the wherewithal to take care of their house because they are elderly should be given a ticket.

YP- While repeated attempts by 90.3 WCPN to seek comment by a housing official were not successful, Housing Court Judge Ray Pianca says there are options for those who are in financial dire straits.

RP- We try to work with them to place them in some other type of housing situation. We have had some defendants whose homes were literally collapsing around them. And we had to order them out of their home. And their home was demolished. In fact, with certain seniors, we will go out to their home. And I’ll have court in their living room. And the reason we do that is to try to obtain help for them to repair their homes. We go out with the prosecutor, court reporter. We take the court to them.

YP- A few people each year are able to get a home audience with a judge to discuss their specific problem. That option came as a surprise to Gertrude Young, who’s about to spend another morning in court today showing that her home is in compliance, and that she shouldn’t be coming back, for charges that were dropped months ago by the judge - but apparently not by the city’s office of housing inspection. In Cleveland, Yolanda Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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