Goshen Republican mayoral candidate Mary Cripe will reduce blight by enforcing existing neighborhood preservation ordinances
GOSHEN, IND. - There is no denying housing in Goshen is a top priority for the next mayor. However, the two mayoral candidates differ on how to approach the issue.
Republican candidate, Mary Cripe, believes if Goshen sets a high-quality example, on projects over which it has direct influence, this will in turn attract high-quality private investment. She believes reducing blight must start with doing a better job at enforcing the city’s existing neighborhood preservation ordinances, while attracting new development begins with making the city developer-friendly.
“There are 22 pages of neighborhood preservation minimum standards listed in our land use and development code book, which include safety and security, responsibilities of owner and occupant, inspection, enforcement and penalties,” Cripe said. “Had these codes been enforced effectively to begin with, we wouldn’t have the pockets of blight we currently have.”
If elected, Cripe vows to work with the city’s code enforcers and existing community development corporations, like LaCasa, to address this issue.
Democrat candidate, Jeremy Stutsman, who has been a city councilman for nearly eight years, recently released his campaign’s five-point plan to fight blight where he calls for expanded government beyond the current neighborhood preservation ordinances.
Stutsman suggests using a court-appointed receiver, performance bonds and transferring titles to the city, among other measures.
Under Stutsman’s plan, the city would identify homes not up to code and use a lengthy, and often costly legal process in which control of the property is taken from the owner, appeals made to a commercial lender to borrow against the property and/or arrange performance bonds from private capital investors giving a cut of the revenue back if the development proves profitable. These tools are put in place as a last ditch effort to address blight mitigation.
While Goshen has 189 properties on its vacant list, nearby Detroit, Mich., has 85,000 vacant or blighted properties. Detroit has been successful at working with the nonprofit organization Center of Community Progress to address blight issues.
Danielle Lewinski, vice president and director of the Center of Community Progress says, “One of the core intents of a blight elimination plan really should be trying to better coordinate existing capacities and resources.”
Cripe says Goshen has a strong social service infrastructure and believes it is in the city’s best interest to coordinate plans to fight blight with these organizations as opposed to preparing civil lawsuits and prosecuting homeowners.
“Expanding legal actions before getting our ‘own house in order’ is not a good idea,” Cripe said. “We must first take responsibility for the fact we have been ineffective at enforcing our current neighborhood preservation minimum standards.”
Cripe wants to rely on Goshen’s existing tools before putting the city in the middle of what she considers to be a risky financial endeavor.
Cripe also says revitalizing the city’s Beautification and Restoration Committee, which was put in place to provide funding to individuals or organizations in order to make appearance enhancements and other necessary structural improvements to their properties, would also be something to consider.
Working collaboratively with groups such as the police department, neighborhood associations, LaCasa, the tree board (greening vacant lots), the artist community (when discussing alternative boarding) and Well Foundation (increasing community well-being) are the kind of creative ideas the next mayor should be planning to do, Cripe says.
On the flip side of blight reduction, is the fact that Goshen has had a major stall in housing development in recent years.
In a 2007 report from Goshen’s Community Relations Commission, current Goshen city councilman, Everett Thomas said, “In the last ten years, Jim Dague (CEO of Goshen Health Systems) has brought in 95 new doctors to work for Goshen Health System and only a few have been willing to live in Goshen. This is a significant change from the days when Larimar Greens was built and the upper-class was moving in fast.”
In this same report, then principal of Chamberlain Elementary School, Don Jantzi, said, “No one is building high end homes in Goshen. They just won’t sell. Goshen is becoming more and more a rental community.”
Cripe believes one way to overcome the lack of new housing developments in Goshen is to ensure the city becomes developer-friendly. Cripe says she is after a healthy mix of stable residents.
She plans to have a certified navigator assigned to development projects - to walk the developer through the many forms and departments required to get a project shovel ready and built. Placing forms online with a tracking code and regularly checking in with the industry leaders are some of the ways she plans to improve the experience.
When completing the city’s comprehensive plan, its planning staff conducted a best practice review and found one-third of the American Planning Association’s standards were missing or weak.
“A healthy community must make sustainable practices a priority, doing so at the development level is the easiest way to implement it,” Cripe said. “A diverse portfolio of safe and desirable housing stock is important, but even more so are the people who inhabit the properties. A community’s people are its greatest asset.”
According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it is the mix of residents, including homeowners and renters – not the properties themselves – that will create and sustain a healthy community.