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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2011

Survey gets under way to check Bowling Green housing conditions

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN -- A citywide survey, checking for such housing problems as peeling paint, cracking foundations, and deteriorating roofs, will be conducted during the next several months in Bowling Green.

Tom Rutter, registered sanitarian with the Wood County health department, recently started the survey, taking note of conditions of homes and accessory structures.

The Wood County health department has a contract for services with the city of Bowling Green, and the survey is part of the contract work, Brad Espen, director of environmental health for Wood County, said.

Bowling Green's first housing survey was completed in 1988. At that time, the health department was first under contract with the city for housing services, and since then, the citywide survey has been conducted every five years, Mr. Espen said.

Information from the survey is used to categorize the housing stock and ensure property values are not impacted by poorly maintained homes. The information also may be used to support grant applications.

Categories that are checked during the survey include those that can become public health problems if left uncorrected, including deteriorating roofs and cracked foundations that can promote mold growth or lead to structural damage.

Other items such as yard maintenance and poor exterior sanitation can create potential rodent harborage sites. When housing conditions are left uncorrected they can affect the property values in the neighborhood, according to the health department.

Most items checked are the same things sanitarians would look at in the rest of the county, Mr. Espen said.

"The difference is that in the county we can only respond to housing problems when we get a complaint. The City of Bowling Green has chosen to be proactive and survey the entire city every five years."

The survey is conducted from public areas in front of the house, and Mr. Rutter doesn't go onto private property.

He carries identification with him, and if residents have questions or concerns about whether a person in a neighborhood is a health department employee, they can contact Mr. Espen at the environmental health division at the county health department.

Two dozen items are surveyed on each property. Fourteen of those, such as roof, chimney, siding, and window conditions, are considered primary categories. Ten non-primary categories include size and type of garage, condition of painted areas, and posted house numbers.

During the last survey, completed in 2006, just more than 5,300 homes were checked. Of those, 81 percent or 4,303 homes had no observed deficiencies.

There were 295 homes categorized as deficient with two or three noted problem areas. Thirty-four homes were documented as neglected with four or more primary deficiencies.

Letters were sent to homes with four or more deficiencies, said Mr. Rutter. Such letters basically give notice of the deficiencies, he said, and then property owners are given time to make corrections.

In between years when the citywide surveys are conducted, maintenance surveys are done, Mr. Rutter said, and informational letters are sent to properties with one or more deficiencies. Property owners are encouraged to make corrections.

If property owners fail to comply, "then we keep pushing forward," Mr. Rutter said. A civil citation could be issued or court action could be taken, but the health department works with property owners "to try to give homeowners adequate time" to remedy the problems.

However, some problems aren't being corrected as quickly as in years past, he said. "We are definitely seeing the economy having an effect," Mr. Rutter said. Homeowners are having trouble finding funds to hire contractors or buy materials to do the work themselves, he said.

Mr. Espen said the health department is aware of the economic situation people are facing, and said, "We are willing to work with people" to address deficiencies.

And because some people are struggling to put food on the table and are short money to buy paint or to replace shingles, for instance, Mr. Rutter anticipates more homes in the new survey will have deficiencies.

Mr. Rutter has completed just a small portion of the survey so far; the wet weather has caused delays.

As the weather improves, he will be spending more time conducting the canvass.

He said he will look from the street or sidewalk at the condition of properties, checking whether paint is peeling to the point it would deteriorate wood or window frames.

He will look to see if sections of gutters are missing or if downspouts are missing. He will check for broken windows and for deteriorating roofs with shingles broken or missing.

Results of the 2011 survey will be compiled into a report to be submitted to the City of Bowling Green Planning Department later this year.



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