Bill Kidder commentary: Some thoughts on blight
The term “urban blight” is generally used to describe deteriorating conditions in a city, also called “decay” or “eyesore.”
City Manager Nick Marano is concerned about what he considers the “blight” of long-term residential motels in Carson City and is “putting together an informal task force” to recommend what to do about them, “especially compliance with health/safety rules.” He said, “We can do aggressive code enforcement and close them down but then what do we do with the people … If it’s life safety, we’re going to close them down but in the end, it’s really a people problem. The blight is really a symptom.”
The Board of Supervisors have already agreed the “maintenance, sanitation and life safety problems at some of Carson City’s residential motels are a serious problem that need to be addressed,” with Jim Shirk suggesting “maybe the license that allows motel owners to rent long term needs to be changed,” and Karen Abowd said “maybe the annual business license could be conditioned on an inspection.”
Fire chief Bob Schreihans said changing the rules to provide for more inspectors “would help give city officials the right to inspect in trade for renewal of the business license,” and Commmunity Development Director Lee Plemel has said, “We realize motels provide a low-income housing alternative for many of our residents in Carson City.” Schreihans added if the fire department “decides to shut down a motel for life safety issues, they have to find some place to put the people who are displaced.”
Mayor Bob Crowell told the city staff they “need to work not only with fire, sheriffs, health and building officials, but the motel operators themselves …”
Terri Srch, owner of Stewart Street Inn, said the motels need to “provide a decent place for people below the poverty line to live.” She said about 30 percent of her residents are veterans and, “We as property owners need to work with the city in fixing this.”
Dwight Millard, who owns the City Plaza and several other long-term rentals in town, said these residents are “mainly uneducated people, a lot of them have problems, a lot of veterans, a lot have mental problems.”
I assume Mr. Marano and the Board of Supervisors are genuinely concerned with residential motels because they house people who happen to be poor and they’re truly worried about the health and safety of their residents. Cynics might think it’s because the motels are located in the middle of their new downtown beautification plan.
Whatever the reasons, Mr. Marano is right these motels are a “symptom” of problems in downtown Carson City that have been neglected for decades. But words matter, and calling residential motels that house poor people a “blight” is a poor choice of words, and not just a little degrading — but not nearly as degrading as having a landlord say most of his tenants are “mainly uneducated” and have “mental problems.”
Certainly there are many residents of these motels and apartments who have serious problems, including drugs, alcohol and “mental issues.” Many others have medical problems, and others have made bad choices in their lives and are paying the price. However, the vast majority are just folks trying to survive in the richest country in the world — vets, disabled, working poor, senior citizens, and parents with children. Consider when Carson City Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Daniel Gonzales founded Holiday with a Hero in 2004 to help students in our schools who don’t have a permanent home, the program identified 55 children. Last Christmas, it helped nearly 300.
If the task force is truly concerned with the health and safety of its residents and not just those who live in downtown motels, they should consider the whole situation of “blight” in Carson City, including the apartments and run-down houses with poor landlords all around the city — some within a chip shot of the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.
The task force should also consider the businesses who cater to the poor. There are a dozen liquor and/or mini marts on Carson Street that plaster their windows with ads for cheap alcohol and cigarettes and 13 payday/title loan companies who prey on them with no-cap interest rates that are outlawed in 18 other states.
The task force also needs to consider solutions for the homeless problem in Carson City — especially downtown.
As a downtown worker, I can testify we deal with the homeless every day. There’s no way to help them. FISH has a few beds that are always full; the Sheriff’s Office can’t help unless they are breaking the law; “warming rooms” are only available at Fuji Park if it’s less than 15 degrees outside, and the EMTs can only transport them to the emergency room if they are sick, in which case they will be released back on the street after treatment.
If the city really wants to help the poor and homeless and at the same time tackle the biggest monument to urban blight on Carson Street, they might quit renewing construction permits year after year at the Ormsby House and turn it into affordable housing for the poor and homeless.
The antonyms for “urban blight” include cleanliness, goodness, purification, blessing, boon, health, and prosperity — all more powerful words than “blight” — and much more powerful goals for a city. I hope Mr. Marano’s task force does do inspections of the residential motels, but also the houses and apartments that cater to the poor as well — with special emphasis on the landlords who own them. They should also consider interviewing the residents and find out what they think.
Bottom line: There’s plenty of talent in Carson City to develop a beautiful downtown that helps and embraces all of its citizens and truly justifies the slogan “Carson Proud.”
Bill Kidder is a former retail executive, newspaperman and real estate broker. He works downtown and is currently writing a history of casinos in Carson City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.