Since 2002, Hartford has seen a 55 percent reduction in the number of blighted buildings. However, we continue to look for ways to continue our unprecedented renaissance, spur economic growth and strengthen our communities — despite these challenging economic times.
The city has been examining the issue of "problem properties" since January 2007. Interdepartmental teams meet biweekly, resulting in increased coordination of municipal activities such as building, health and fire inspections; property clean-ups; mothballing of properties; emergency demolition; tax foreclosures; redevelopment planning; and general assistance to struggling property owners.
Part of this effort is a citation process that has proved to be a powerful weapon to combat urban blight. Ninety-nine-dollar tickets are given for violations of Hartford's Municipal Code, such as garbage on premises and tall grass and weeds.
Before this, the city used public resources to clean up properties and charged the violator for the cost. If the bills were not paid, a lien was placed against the property. The city can still resort to this action, but citations are proving effective in encouraging property owners to clean up. In fact, in less than a year, 970 notices were issued, 150 citations were handed out, and the city has imposed over $43,000 in fines.
The Hartford Neighborhood Development Fund is the next step in this long-term campaign to reduce blight, promote development, create jobs and increase homeownership. By using this fund, we will support public/private partnerships that will develop housing and businesses in areas of the city that need a little extra incentive and push to better connect the progress that we have already made downtown to the city's other culturally diverse neighborhoods.
The project calls for investing $50 million in capital funds over the next five years. This money will prompt at least another $100 million in private and other public investment to transform blighted areas and create new homeowners, provide quality rental units and develop new neighborhood retail. In essence, it begins the next phase of Hartford's resurgence.
Hartford is building on its momentum by focusing on four areas:
• Downtown North and Asylum Hill, where highly visible vacant buildings can be redeveloped and neighborhoods separated by a major interstate can be reconnected.
• Our Northeast neighborhood, where we can expand upon the grandparent housing that has been developed.
• Our Frog Hollow section, where we can draw upon the vibrancy of Park Street, which is the heart of our Latino business district, and expand it by developing housing and small businesses.
• And our South End, where we can link development to Hartford Hospital, which is one of the nation's leading medical facilities.
Hartford prides itself on being "New England's Rising Star" and a city "As Strong As Its People." In order to achieve our goal of becoming a 24/7 city, we need to increase the feet on the street and the vibrancy of all of our neighborhoods. Increasing homeownership and quality affordable rentals — including the development of workforce housing — will only add to the city's energy, which is already attracting a growing number of visitors through conventions and tourism.
What Hartford has learned in the early stages of our economic development push is that we can't go it alone. Government dollars are scarce and the more we can reach out to our corporate citizens, the greater the results. Luckily, Hartford has a strong business base, including three Fortune 100 companies that continue to be proud of this city's historic past and excited about our promising future. When we all — public and private entities alike — feel that we have something at stake, we all prosper.
Eddie A. Perez is mayor of Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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