DeKalb council discusses Crime Free Housing Program again

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

DeKALB – The plan for DeKalb’s fledgling Crime Free Housing Program to hire three part-time property inspectors remains intact, at least for now.

Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker brought the issue before the City Council at Monday’s meeting, but moved to successfully postpone action until the next meeting citing the absence of Aldermen David Jacobson and Kristen Lash. Changes to the city budget require six yes votes to pass.

In the works for years, the Crime Free Housing Program, which aims to fight crime in and around DeKalb’s approximately 9,000 rental properties, currently counts Coordinator Carl Leoni as its only employee but has approval to hire three sidewalk inspectors.

These proposed inspectors would observe – from the sidewalk – exterior problems with rental properties and then work with landlords to bring residences up to city code.

But Baker and some DeKalb landlords would prefer that the department focus just on crime.

“If I’m a homeowner in DeKalb, and I look across the street and there’s abandoned cars, the grass is tall, there’s trash in the yard, who do you call?” William Heinisch, the president of the DeKalb Area Rental Association, said at the meeting. “Do you call the code department? Or do you think, ‘Oh, I call crime-free housing?’ That’s what it boils down to.”

Heinisch and others believe code enforcement should remain under the authority of the public works department, so that Leoni can focus on fighting crime and building relationships.

“Code issues, such as property maintenance, need to be in the code department; crime issues need to be in the police department, and that’s why there needs to be a separation of those two responsibilities,” he said.

Others on the council disagree, saying that the Crime Free Housing Program, which has only been active since February, hasn’t been around long enough to show what it’s capable of.

“These people should have been employed and out in streets, in my opinion, back in April or May and doing the work that we intended for them to do,” 5th Ward Alderman Ron Naylor said. “Let it go for six months or a year, and see how it works. I don’t see why we’re moving this back and forth.”

Mayor John Rey seemed to take the same wait-and-see position, but wouldn’t speculate on whether the majority of the council sees it that way.

“My view, it appears to be switching horses in the middle of the stream,” Rey said after the meeting. “We’re in the process of recruiting a new city manager. ... During this interim, I would prefer to see the [Crime Free Housing Program] remain as currently intended, and then once we get a city manager seated, over a six- to 12-month period, do an evaluation of the performance of that department.”

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