This week brought a landmark event to Sikeston with the first action by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. The LCRA leveled the first of well over a hundred houses scheduled for demolition as part of a citywide effort to remove substandard structures from our community. I'm told more structures will come down this week.
It's been a long time since voters gave approval for the sweeping changes that will result in the removal of these derelict properties. But the legal process to take title to the houses, followed by the bidding process for removal, has taken more time than I would have expected. Yet now that the first structure has fallen, more will follow in rapid succession.
Few issues in recent memory have had a greater potential to improve living conditions in Sikeston. Literally hundreds of structures have already been identified as substandard and the LCRA target areas does not even include the entire community. Much of Smith addition, for example, was not included in the initial target area by consultants for the city. It's likely the target area will be expanded to include these sections. Once done, more houses will be added to the list for removal.
The code enforcement officials are to be commended for their efforts to identify problem properties and work with the residents. But sadly, even those efforts have not always brought positive results. In some instances, the tenants or the landlords clearly resist any efforts to bring those properties into compliance. That's when the courts step in.
The only problem I have with the court process is that far too many violators are allowed to pay small amounts toward their fines. I recognize that most of these tenants are low income and lack the resources to pay substantial fines. But a balance must be reached that will impose some form of hardship that will force these residents to change their behavior and monitor their property. If a violator is allowed minimal community service, that often lacks the teeth to bring about a change in habits. That defeats the purpose of the process.
There are side benefits to the LCRA process as well. I'm told that a code enforcement officer was addressing a problem residence this week and learned that the structure was without electricity or natural gas. Division of Family Services was contacted because a number of children live in the house as well. It just illustrates how important it is to proactively address problem properties here and to aggressively initiate change.
No single issue in our community is currently as important as the active monitoring of substandard properties. By taking this strong approach, we'll remove problem tenants and force slumlords to spend the money necessary to bring properties into compliance. Over the long run, our hope is that we'll take back control of the appearance and the make-up of Sikeston.
It's been a long time coming but the wait has been well worth it.