Demand Action on Housing

    Springs residents hoping that town officials will heed their call for increased efforts to eradicate illegal housing in their hamlet appeared once again before the town board last Thursday, reiterating a call for a summit on the issue and pleading for stepped-up enforcement efforts.
    “We’ve had plenty of fact-finding,” Joan Baum said. “I’d like to add my voice to a call for your focused attention to these suggestions, and appeal to you for a timely and specific response, now,” she told the board.
    Kathy McCormack, a member of the Springs Concerned Citizens group, said she was submitting a letter to the board once again calling for action “because we feel that not enough is being done, and you feel it’s sufficient.” If necessary, she said, the town should hire more code enforcement officers.
    “The quality of life is really changing,” said Irena Grant, a 12-year resident of Springs who said she is concerned about her children’s safety. Initially, she said, her area was “a really neighborly community” where she felt comfortable allowing her children to play outdoors. Now, she said, with houses nearby used as rentals for multiple people, and the conversion of basements to dormitories, “that all has changed, rapidly. They’re like shadowy persons who come in, and leave,” she said.
    Incidents of crime, from drunken driving by unlicensed drivers to petty thefts from driveways, have increased, she said, mentioning the case of a brothel in Springs and an incident last year in which a husband attacked his wife.
    “I’m now living on a street where we have a rapist down the street,” Ms. Grant said. “It’s really upsetting, and it’s really getting out of control. Please, do whatever you can to enforce the law,” she said.
    “This is just really a crisis. This type of illegal housing encourages transients, and that’s a threat to the community,” said Carol Buda.
    David Buda, Ms. Buda’s husband and an organizer of Springs Concerned Citizens, laid out several objectives he said he’d like to see the board pursue. He said the town should enact legislation establishing a set of objective criteria presumed to indicate an illegally overcrowded residence, enabling enforcement and court actions to proceed based on that evidence. In addition, he said, the town should devote more resources to the Code Enforcement Department, increasing the staff there, should increase fines and strive to get judges to impose the maximum penalties, and should make it the highest priority to enforce conditional discharge orders when a court case is resolved, provided no further violations occur.
    “The community has questions; we want answers,” Ms. Buda said to the town board members. “We do not want to be on the back burner. The longer this goes on, the stronger we get,” she told them. “Over the last year and a half, we have come to the board with realistic, sensible proposals, and nothing, nothing has been done. We really, really need to see change,” she said.
    Another speaker presented the board with a map showing suspected illegally used houses. She said she had come to the meeting with five neighbors, and promised each would bring five more neighbors next time.
    One speaker, Tina Piette, expressed concern about the growing involvement of residents in tracking housing problems. “I am truly uncomfortable with this . . . spying on your neighbor, taking pictures of your neighbor,” she said. “I am astounded that this is happening in my community.”
    A member of a committee formed last year by the town board to gather data on housing, and of the Town Republican Committee, Ms. Piette said, “I really take offense” at accusations that “this board has done nothing to solve the problem. It’s a very complicated problem,” she said.
    Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and her Democratic counterpart on the board, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, have expressed a willingness to hold a public forum on the issue. At last Thursday’s meeting, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson commented only on the number of housing cases in Springs that the Ordinance Enforcement Department had opened — 111, he said, resulting in 94 going to court, and 974 violations being issued.