Falls officials are working collaboratively to develop an ever-evolving program to address blighted properties in the township.
Dubbed the “Falls Cares Program: Action with Compassion,” Township Manager Matthew Takita said he and Code Enforcement Officer Melissa Haxel in, as well as the township’s police co-responder, Cara Gadzinski, are creating a structure to help in rectifying blighted properties.
“The blighted property could be anywhere from a hoarded house to one that is in such disrepair that it requires demolition to one that has high grass and weeds and debris,” Takita said.
As a first step, Takita, who also serves as the township’s code enforcement director, said he’s working with the code enforcement department to ensure that inspectors properly enforce blighted conditions, including issuing a violation notice and proceeding through the court system.
Takita also intends to work with the police department and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in identifying types of crime in neighborhoods to determine if there’s a trend in data related to property conditions.
“What happens with the crime rate if we eliminate these types of blight issues?” Takita asked.
The township’s police co-responder, a specially trained social worker paired with Falls police, will offer guidance in addressing the “human side” of blight issues, according to Takita. In instances of hoarding or when a property requires demolition, a resident would be displaced.
While it is “easy to write a violation,” doing so does not solve the underlying problem.
“We reset the problem clock,” Takita said. “We’ve just bought more time.”
Instead, the co-responder would work with residents to determine the underlying cause of hoarding, for instance, and identify resources to get property owners help through a network of resources that Falls is developing.
The co-responder would also connect property owners with junk removal companies, landscapers and other businesses that could help remedy the situation. By offering resources, Falls hopes to prevent repeat blight problems and provide property owners with needed assistance.
“We want to be able to help the residents out,” Takita said.
Supervisors Chairman Jeff Dence said that while there are only a few blighted properties throughout the township, taking the initiative to correct the root cause of the problem will help in the long run.
“By working together, we can continually improve the quality of life for our residents and business owners,” Dence said. “Through our ‘Falls Cares Program: Action with Compassion,’ we hope to instill a greater pride of ownership and offer help to folks struggling with property maintenance and upkeep.”
Takita expects to develop the program throughout the course of the next year, understanding that it will “constantly evolve” and that “every situation is not exactly the same.”
“Maintaining good housing is important to the community as a whole,” said Takita, who has worked for Falls Township for a little more than four years. “Coming into Falls, that’s one of the first things I looked at: What does Falls have as far as their property maintenance program?”