Fourth Ward tour showcases successes, work that remains

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012
— The tour through the Fourth Ward early Tuesday evening was full of contrasts.

A terrace full of dog feces and a front porch fronted by pretty potted flowers. Windows covered with plywood and exquisitely renovated homes. A pile of garbage and neatly kept lawns.

Pockets of good and pockets of bad.

Resident Burdette Erickson was the guide, pointing out the successes but also the work that remains to be done in his neighborhood.

About 20 residents—some from other neighborhoods—and city staff, council members and probation officers tagged along. The crowd also included Police Chief Dave Moore and other police officers.

Erickson first spoke to those assembled on vacant property next to his High Street home. He explained that the former owner recently tore the home down and donated the land to the nearby Janesville Woman's Club rather than selling it and running the risk of it becoming rental property.

Erickson talked of landlords who rent irresponsibly or don't maintain their properties, warning they were being watched.

"We will not remain silent any longer about what landlords and tenants do to us," Erickson said.

Some residents can't use their front porches because of fighting and drinking, he said. Tenants urinate in front of children. Some residents are embarrassed to have company over, or their relatives don't want to visit them. Drug deals block sidewalks and driveways. The stench of dog feces is terrible in at least one area.

"That's what we live with," Erickson said. Tenants can destroy the quality of life.

But tenants come and go like flies, he said, and landlords always seem to find others who can find even more creative ways to disrupt neighbors' lives.

Threatening landlords with exposure is the neighbors' weapon, Erickson said, adding he wanted those on the walk to see the tenants who cause them so much trouble.

Erickson distributed fliers with a list of trouble addresses, and Moore said the eight officers there Tuesday have the fliers now.

"Tomorrow, 104 (officers) will have it," Moore said.

Officers will meet with each of the landlords, Moore said. Recently, the city issued a landlord the most violations ever under its chronic nuisance ordinance.

Artists Susan Hunt-Wulkowicz and her mother, Jan Hunt, live at the corner of Academy and Holmes streets and were on the tour. They love the older homes and the diversity of the Fourth Ward.

The city needs affordable housing, Hunt-Wulkowicz said. But landlords should rent more responsibly.

Hunt-Wulkowicz said the women find themselves constantly explaining to people who visit their gallery that they should not be surprised by the mix of housing. And last summer, the women didn't sit out on their porch because the renters across the street threw nightly drunken parties. Drugs were involved, as well, they said.

This year, the building is vacant, and they once again feel comfortable sitting outside.

Resident Tom Lemmer passed a home on Cherry Street and served up its story.

It is now vacant, but the recent tenants were evicted and left their stuff behind. The landlord is in jail.

Liz Anderson recently moved to South Jackson Street into a lovely restored home owned by a great landlord. She had heard good things about what was going on in the Fourth Ward and wanted to be part of it, she said. Anderson, too, likes homes with character and the neighborhood's diversity.

But she's had to call the police a half-dozen times on the people across the street, she said.

Maricela Del Camino has four kids and she, too, said she is concerned about the environment.

Erickson thanked the city staff members assembled for the homes they have rehabilitated and those they have torn down. On one vacant lot, though, resident Ilah Hartung started picking up trash and ran out of hands.

"I guess I can't pick everything up," she said, almost apologetically.

Erickson credited police officers and city staff for recent successes. There was a time when groups of people roamed the streets on summer nights, neighbors were afraid to go outside and drug deals were more blatant.

The police couldn't have done it without the neighbors, Moore said.

"If we all work together, collectively, we can make change," Moore said. The Fourth Ward and nearby Look West neighborhoods cannot be lost to crime and must be kept safe because they reflect on the entire city.

Probation officers present handed out their cards.

"If you ever have questions about supervision, call us," one said.

"You officers, we cannot tell you enough how well you are doing your job," Erickson told those dressed in blue.

"Amen," a resident shouted.

Last updated: 8:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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