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OUR VIEW: The fight against blight

Urban blight is, without a doubt, one of the biggest road blocks in the city’s path to self improvement.

The numbers are staggering. Almost 1,700 buildings are without a tenant — not counting squatters, a growing problem in Syracuse which we’ll get to later — which costs almost $2 million for the city, i.e. the taxpayers, to maintain each year.

You don’t need to dig through the city’s budget documents to see the negative affect of vacant homes, however. Look around you. The houses, without a homeowner to give them the necessary TLC, have become eyesores that cast an ugly shadow over the homes that surround them — dragging down property values in the process.

“We spend a lot of money trying to maintain these properties to incredibly minimal standards,” Corey Driscoll, the city’s deputy director of code enforcement, told us last week.

When a code enforcement officer, someone whose job it is to promote building safety and sharp aesthetics, is using phrases like “incredibly minimal,” you know you’re in trouble.

But it’s not her fault; she’s just being honest. Urban blight has become such an issue in the city of Syracuse that there isn’t enough money for a code enforcement officer to do any more than meet the minimum when it comes to keeping those empty houses “up to code.”

With so many houses vacant, the squatters in the community are cashing in. Syracuse Police Lt. Richard Shoff called the phenomenon of people moving from one vacant home to another a “sub-culture” in Syracuse, “and in commercial properties, it’s the same thing, only on steroids.”

And the squatter issue is harder to enforce than some might think; the state penal code doesn’t currently have a law declaring the act of living freely in an empty home, on private property, illegal.

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