Mayor Mitchell Says Landlords Need to Take Responsibility for Criminal Element
Monday's alleged gang shootout in the area of North Front Street that injured an innocent bystander, a 60-year-old man that was in his own apartment on Tallman Street, has highlighted that violent crime in New Bedford can strike anywhere.
And Mayor Jon Mitchell believes there are short-term fixes, but also a need for long-term solutions to keep the criminal element out of these neighborhoods.
"I was disgusted by what happened," Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM. "Here you have someone at his house, who wasn't doing anything wrong but being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in his own home, he gets hit. It's very frustrating."
Mitchell said there are a number of things they are doing in the short-term to stabilize that neighborhood in the face of rising crime, including saturating the area with police.
"We talk about crime and threats to the neighborhood, and there have to be immediate solutions," he said. "That's why we're concentrating law enforcement efforts along North Front Street, because obviously there is a pressing need right now."
But the mayor is also taking a more long-term view toward curbing crime in problem areas, and he thinks that starts with landlords.
"Part of the longer-term solution is to continue to tighten the vise on absentee landlords, because that's where the folks who are involved in these types of incidents live," he said. "People move into town with criminal records, and there are landlords that are willing to tolerate all kinds of bad behavior."
Mitchell said his administration has been tough on landlords, fining them for all kinds of infractions to send a message that the city is not going to put up with absentee landlords that don't care for their property or their tenants. He said those houses used to be filled with multiple generations of families that had lived in them for decades, and that it led to a lot of self-policing in the neighborhoods. Mitchell said the housing foreclosures in 2008 and 2009 allowed "irresponsible people to purchase these properties for pennies on the dollar" and that's hurting the neighborhoods.
"They don't live in New Bedford, they don't care one bit about these neighborhoods," he said. "With the drop in owner occupancy, and with the level of irresponsibility of these landlords, anything goes."
The mayor said he is pushing for changes to the city code to force landlords to be more selective about who they rent to, putting them through some sort of vetting process to ensure they're not going to be a danger to the neighborhood, especially if they are coming from out of town. He said it may not change things immediately, but it can start to set a tone.
"If you own property in the city of New Bedford, it isn't just a static piece of property. It's not just any business. You're housing people, you're part of a neighborhood, you have a heightened responsiblity to other people," he said. "If you're not willing to do that, then we'll see you in court."
Mitchell said right now, all it seems that is happening is that these negligent landlords are just exchanging tenants.
"All they are doing is just shifting them around, circulating these bad tenants who are causing problems, who are associated with gangs, who are beating up their girlfriends," Mitchell said. "We don't want them in New Bedford. We don't want them here."