MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — The city of Maple Heights has begun a door-to-door inspection program to make sure houses don’t fall into disrepair or have to be demolished.
The city’s Building Department has already started inspecting the exteriors of some of the houses in Maple Heights.
The goal of the program is to maintain the city’s aging housing stock and to prevent eyesores, according to Brendan Zak, the city’s housing manager, who’s been on the job for eight months.
“We're acknowledging that our neighborhoods need the love and we need to be the ones to give it to them,” Zak said.
Zak said he often hears from residents that certain houses are eyesores. But the city doesn’t want these inspections to be burdensome.
“We want to make sure that we are doing this equitably, that we are doing this in a way that we're not hurting our homeowners or our landlords, but in a way to make sure that the house down the street that someone just grimaces looking at every single day is being addressed. And we're doing something about it,” Zak said.
Zak said that most houses in Maple Heights are “beautiful” and may just have a small “cosmetic thing” here or there.
“But it's always the sore thumb on the street that people remember,” Zak said.
He described a house he was looking at: “Obviously the paint is going to be an issue. The overgrown bushes are an issue. The steps that have fallen on this property are an issue. The entire garage behind me is an issue with junk on display.”
But repairs can be expensive. That’s why Zak said they’re looking at ways to connect people with resources: county programs, or low-cost loans and grants.
“Most people that I talk to say, you know, ‘I would love to put a new roof on my house. I'd love to do this. I’d love to do that. I know this is a problem. I just don't have the money for it,’” Zak said.
Houses that have violations are given a three-month date to comply with repairs, but Zak said that time frame is flexible as long as homeowners communicate about what they’re doing and the progress they’re making.
“As long as we're seeing progress, as long as we're seeing a little bit, we’re not going to send anyone to court. We're not going to be punitive with this program,” Zak said.
Zak said next year’s budget includes three housing inspectors, each of whom will be responsible for about one-third of the annual inspections.
Janet Menefee has lived in Maple Heights for three years. She described the city as “nice and quiet” and said she feels safe because “police always patrol the area because I do a lot of walking.”
However, she realizes not all of the houses in the city look their best.
“I’m not gonna lie. It makes it trashy. It really does,” Menefee said of houses that are in disrepair. “I just feel like everybody that’s on the front streets need to keep their yards and their houses looking presentable because it makes the neighborhood looks bad.”
For her, making the city look better comes down to people helping each other.
“There's a lot of places that needs painting. Really, a lot of paint,” Menefee said. “And I know there's a lot of older people, so they can't do it, but if we can get some volunteers to help them like to paint it, you know, I think it will look better.”
Mayor Annette Blackwell, who was elected in 2016, said this inspection program has gotten some positive responses and some negative responses.
“There's a lot of pride in Maple Heights right now,” Blackwell said. “Certainly with the pandemic, people spent a lot more time at home, which has spurred just the interest of just taking care of what they have, appreciating their homes again, expanding where they can, where families are growing, or just adding to the beauty of the decor of the home or if there's empty nesters.”
She said property values are increasing in Maple Heights, and a record number of permits have been filed with the city building department.
“People care,” Blackwell said. “For many people, Maple Heights is as good as it gets, and that's OK. That's OK. If Maple Heights is as good as it gets for you, we want to make it an amazing experience.”
She said the program is important to make sure houses don’t fall into disrepair and have to be demolished.
“So we don't let things get this way that we can't save this beauty, this grandeur, this architecture,” Blackwell said, standing near a house that would be torn down.
Blackwell emphasized the fact that residents want their neighborhoods to look nice and not to have eyesores.
“A resident was having a huge gathering and the house next door, the grass needed to be cut. It was vacant and it had some other eyesores,” Blackwell recalled. “She said, ‘You know, I want a good presentation. I've got family coming in from all over. Can you have someone cut the grass at least?’ And so those are just examples of this demand being really put forward to the administration by the residents.”
Blackwell noted the city has not only added the position of housing manager to its building department, but also an economic development director. The city has also completed a “successful paint program” and is working closely with the land bank on properties with large tax delinquencies, as well as with Slavic Village to restore homes that can be sold at full market value.
“Homeownership is still the dream of many Americans” when it comes to “passing on generational wealth,” Blackwell said.
“There is a sense of pride that I could probably just stick a microphone in someone's face that just got a home and you could just hear the sheer pride and glee,” Blackwell said. “It's an accomplishment, and it's one that should be celebrated. We want to help them celebrate that.”
All of this also leads to economic development, Blackwell said, with companies coming in or businesses expanding.
“We've seen small restaurants open. We've seen some daycares expand,” Blackwell said. “We've got a fresh fruit market that’s packed today, people buying fresh green beans and apples, getting ready for the holiday, right on Broadway. We’re seeing that investment. We’ve got a car wash opening at the end of the month that's in about four or five cities, that people can get their car washed so that you don't have to leave the city to access those services like you've had in past years.”
And, despite the fact that some rundown houses in Maple Heights are too much in disrepair to be saved, Blackwell said some next-door neighbors are buying the lots where houses are torn down, to expand their own property lines.
“Someone sees this and says, ’Is this really Maple Heights?’” Blackwell said. “When you have this kind of of a size of a parcel, you can add that landmass to your own parcel and you create that privacy in the middle of a city.”
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.