VALPARAISO — A coordinated effort between the Porter County Health Department, the Valparaiso Building Commission and Center Township Trustees is expected to better handle city rental evictions.
Maggie Clifton, director of community engagement, discussed the problems in dealing with the inhospitable housing at 502 Union St.
An infestation that forced five families from their bug-filled apartments was so severe that a resident had been treated multiple times at the hospital, according to officials. The 2,800-square-foot building at 502 Union St. was declared “unfit for human habitation” by the Porter County Health Department. Residents had to vacate and find other means of housing. The building was evacuated in August by the Porter County Health Department because of bed bugs and cockroach infestation, among other issues.
"Part of what was unique about 502 Union St. was that the city didn't realize the order to vacate had been placed until just about everyone else in town did," Clifton said. "While the order to vacate is a county power, a county issue, we wanted to make sure we were doing our part to make sure if this happens again, it's a little bit smoother, a little bit more collected so that we're working together to address some of these concerns."
An ad hoc group of nonprofits and local businesses coordinated through United Way of Porter County came together to house and feed the five families. Four out of the five families have found housing through nonprofit and faith-based groups. One family has yet to be placed because of health issues.
A city statement, issued six days after residents were evicted, said the administration and council will work to fix the city’s rental registration ordinance, which was last amended in 2011. However, state restrictions keep the city's hands tied when it comes to inspecting inhospitable homes like 502 Union St., according to Patrick Lyp, director of economic development.
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Clifton said meetings with the city, the county health department, the city building commissioner, Center Township Trustee Jesse Harper and neighborhood representatives have set up their future actions and spread how to notify the city of an issue.
"What's resulted from this is a written procedure that's meant to guide, if there's orders to vacate in the future," Clifton said.
A chain of command has been established.
The health department will now notify the building commissioner in advance of an order to vacate. All of the actions have the goal of minimizing the impact on the residents.
Council members asked if the owner of the residence would have any responsibility to help find other housing for evicted tenants. City Administrator Bill Oeding said no, but the city could charge them for other incurred costs.