06/25/07 — Officials add 197 houses to city watch list

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Officials add 197 houses to city watch list

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 25, 2007 1:46 PM

Goldsboro has a problem, one that has been recognized by city inspectors, elected officials and residents -- nearly 200 Goldsboro houses currently fall below North Carolina's minimum housing standard.

Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra will tell you that with each house a landlords brings up to minimum housing standards, another makes his watch list.

In some cases, landlords who refuse to make repairs are the problem, he said.

In others, those sharing their homes with rodents, mold, mildew and homemade crack-pipes are doing little to improve their situation.

But every time a home enters the minimum housing process, Cianfarra and his staff go through the motions to ensure they are doing their part to keep the city safe and livable.

Broken windows, rotting floors, fire damage, mold and mildew can be found inside most of them.

So with $60,000 in hand, the Inspections Department will do all it can to tear down those that have not been repaired.

But it isn't enough.

"The money issue will always be there. That's the unfortunate thing about it," Cianfarra said. "Right now, within the next 12-month period, with what I have presently on the books in Phase III and what will come up during that year, I need $750,000 to $1 million. That sounds like a lot of money but when you consider federal regulations -- asbestos removal, lead paint removal, all the items we have to go through -- that is what it will take."

It wasn't always that expensive, he added, but then again, gasoline was not always $3 per gallon. In fact, when Cianfarra started his work in Goldsboro more than two decades ago, local farmers would do the work if they could keep the lumber to build hog houses.

"That was a great recycling situation," he said. "We were taking old houses, tearing them down for nothing, and the owner would only be responsible for raking up, cleaning up the lot. You can't really do that anymore. I have to pay somebody to remove asbestos. I have pay somebody to dump it in a proper manner. Now, what I'm stuck with are demolition costs that have jumped up."

And there are other problems, too, he added.

As immigrants continue to move into the city, they move into dilapidated homes with no proper education on American standards of living. They go through the motions, just happy to have a place to call home, Cianfarra said.

Now, violations and complaints that might have come from tenants years ago are left unheard.

"When you have an influx of immigrants, what some people fail to understand is where those people come from," Cianfarra said. "What were the average living conditions for those people coming in from other countries? My parents were Italian immigrants. They came into this country and moved into what is now a part of New York that is slums. But it was a brick building and my parents were tickled to death. They thought they were living wonderful. But as they learned the American way, they realized this wasn't living. They didn't realize we have a standard."

And there are others who, for whatever reason, have become complacent in where they live, he added.

"Not everybody is a college graduate. There are people out there living in an economic depression," Cianfarra said. "Is it shocking? No. Not to me. But is it depressing? Yes it is. It's not right."

Some just don't seem to care where they live.

Others are afraid to report the conditions they are living in -- they don't want to be evicted, Cianfarra said.

"There are landlords in some cases, when my staff shows up, they have to deal with us because the law says he has to," he said. "He's going to go in there and fix it. We're going to make sure of that. The problem is, he will either tell that tenant to get out or he will raise the rent to some ungodly amount because he's mad."

But rental properties are only a part of the problem.

"There are a lot of people here in Goldsboro who have worked very hard to own the house they are in. They have been there for years," Cianfarra said. "But now they are at an age where they are living on an income that has no variation -- it's Social Security, it's retirement. The cost of repairs for that home they have worked for their whole lives is going up. ... They don't have savings, they don't have an income to make a monthly payment because it's a larger home and there are enough problems with rising gas and electric bills.

"This home is going to deteriorate and these were fine people," he added. "These were fine, upstanding people who gave everything to own that house. They stay there because they worked for that. And then they get a knock on the door."

Anyone can fall victim to an aging home, Cianfarra said.

But there are solutions -- even if the price tag is more than most residents would like to spend.

"Can you get on top of it? The only way is to hire enough people, to throw enough money at it, to start to patrolling these neighborhoods," he said. "Is that a very expensive proposition? Yes. Will it make your city a whole lot better? Absolutely. It's either very costly to do it and you move forward with it anyway and you're washing both hands, or you don't and you always have one hand that's dirty."

Cianfarra admits the decision to make the kind of investment needed is a tough one. He doesn't envy the elected officials who have to make that call when budget time rolls around each year.

But watching once-beautiful houses make his list before they fall apart, watching the undereducated, aging and poor live in hazardous environments is enough to give him hope that one day, a larger effort will be made.

"If people would go into some of these houses, there would be so many questions," Cianfarra said. "They would say, 'How can a person live like this? This is disgusting. What is amazing to me, after 25 years in Goldsboro, I'm not shocked anymore at anything."