The title “Gentrification and its Discontents” (2/4) has great meaning for me. I bought a dilapidated old house, the worst house on the block at the time, in Ward 4 in 1991. Through long years of suffering through crack whores leaving used condoms and empty crack vials in my garage as evidence of their illicit assignations, broken windows on the garage and side of my house, teenagers smoking marijuana in my garage, and illegal dumping of trash in front of my garage door, I have managed to transform my home into one of the jewels of the neighborhood. So much so that the neighborhood is attracting residents who might not have dared live here when I took a chance and set down roots here, despite the fact that my home’s previous owner had been murdered in the house by having a stake driven through his head by someone who came to his front door.
Crack addicts still roam the street during the day, coming to the door to offer to cut grass, and a motorist was recently beaten and stabbed out front when he tried to pass a group of vehicles illegally blocking the thoroughfare, but some things have changed: People who have noticed how valuable yet still affordable the property in this area is have jumped on the bandwagon and moved in.
Fast-forward to September of last year: I had a knock on the door. A person stood at my door flashing a badge. He presented me with a notice from the city citing several deficiencies on my garage door; it needed painting, window repair, and some replacement hardware. I would be fined $125 if I did not comply. The notice reflected an address in Northeast (I live in Northwest), a Ward 5 locale, and an infraction (missing hardware) that did not apply to my door. I thought it was a mistake and ignored it.
With diligence befitting a truly sophisticated bureaucracy, the city sent me another notice shortly thereafter ordering compliance. Because the old garage door hangs on tracks suspended from the ceiling, is difficult to operate, and has multiple panes of glass that would be costly to replace and would serve as an open invitation to further vandalism, I long ago decided that I would replace the door only when I was able. In the meantime, I decided to allow myself to be assessed the $125 fine that had been threatened because it would cost less than beautifying a door that needed to be replaced anyway. No such luck.
On Thursday, Jan. 27, two men showed up at my door saying they were contractors who had been sent by the city to come onto my property to replace the broken windows and paint the garage door. Without producing any badge or city-issued identification, they proceeded to tell me that they intended to go to work and if I did not allow it, the police would come back next time to force me to allow them access to my property. I was unsure if this was a scam or not. I mentioned that I had been calling the city for months—since before Thanksgiving of last year—to come and haul away construction debris that had been illegally dumped in front of my garage. These men said they could haul away the debris as well as do the repairs. I dismissed them nevertheless.
Early on Monday, Jan. 31, workers from the Department of Public Works showed up to remove the debris that had languished in front of my garage for months. The following Monday, a neighborhood stabilization officer came to my door to say that the garage door needed to be addressed or the police would come and I would have to allow a city-selected contractor to do the work, which would be assessed against my house.
I find this outrageous and contemptible. Over the time I have lived here, there has been little police presence to contain the criminals who prey on people in the neighborhood and make it a less pleasant place to live. Someone was accosted and robbed early one morning recently on her way to work, a rash of robberies has plagued the area, and my side-porch window was smashed out in a robbery attempt. One night, I noticed that my neighbors’ alarm lights were flashing, and I called 911 to report a possible emergency. The dispatcher told me to go over and check to see if anything was amiss. I suppose there weren’t any police available; perhaps they were too busy escorting contractors onto people’s property to force them to have their garage doors painted.
We have had to endure crime and real blight for years as we have toiled to make this an attractive place to live, and now the forces of gentrification make it unacceptable for newcomers to have to endure an unsightly garage door? Where is the justice?
16th Street Heights