Neighbors on the 900 block of Jackson Street in Albany say they are fed up with several dilapidated properties on the block, and are asking city officials to move quickly to deal with the structural problems, overgrown yards, abandoned cars and debris.
The homes at 947, 953, and 955 Jackson Street — about 200 feet from Oceanview Elementary School — have led neighbors like Mindi Ritzman, Barbara Chambers and Jen Dyment to mount a campaign to get something done about the properties.
"Albany prides itself on the schools, parks, having tons of families, sports fields. And the kids are just exposed to this," Dyment said of the neglected homes on the block.
Neighbors complain about the home at 947 Jackson Street, which, they claim, no one has lived at for about two decades. Several months ago, the building was raised onto wooden crates to allow for foundation work to be completed. It remains raised.
Ann Chaney, community development director for Albany, said she understands the neighbors' frustration; it appears some work has been going on at the home, she said, but it is not moving fast enough.
"Of course the project has gone slowly, much slower than we'd like, she said.
Chaney said she has attempted to discuss the situation with the owners of the home, Herb Layton and his son, Alfred. She recently said city officials "are talking to legal counsel about this," and would not give more details.
Herb Layton declined to comment other than to say that he and his son are "working on it and we're trying to cooperate with the neighbors and the city. We're doing it as quickly as we can."
When reached by phone, Alfred Layton said, "All I have to say is that I'm working on it and hoping to get the work completed soon so everybody will be happy."
Two other homes on the block have also been an issue. The home at 953 Jackson Street — owned by William Wish, a San Diego resident in his 80s — has been vacant for about five years. Chaney said it needed to have overgrown vegetation cut back, trash removed from the yard, an unregistered car filled with debris covered, and the property secured, among other issues. Wish recently hired a local landscape worker to do work on his property.
Meanwhile, Chaney said, the home at 955 Jackson Street needs a paint job, vegetation trimmed, and an unregistered car moved out of the public right of way. Chaney said the owners of the home recently died. Their daughter, Piedmont resident Sheila Kramer, said she is transferring ownership of the home to her sister — a process she hopes will be complete sometime next month.
Chaney said she has been in discussions with owners of both homes about necessary repairs, and says they have been cooperative. She said she will continue to work with them in the coming weeks.
Chaney said she feels for the neighbors on the block, and city staff is doing what they can to resolve the issues quickly. But Albany has too little staff, with too little experience in the field of code enforcement, Chaney said. And certain unsightly conditions aren't always necessarily against the law, which is difficult to deal with.
"We're not geared up to do code enforcement in this city," she said. "We also have private property rights in this country. It is difficult to get into properties, as long as certain things are taken care of."
Last year, the City of Albany successfully dealt with an abandoned, neglected home on Talbot Street, using the city's nuisance abatement ordinance. The owners of the home eventually sold it to investors, who fixed it up and sold it again last fall.
Neighbors on Jackson Street say they worry the neglected properties on their block will attract rodents or illegal activities. They say their property values have also been affected.
"I'm angry about it," Chambers said. "We did a lot of work on our house. When we have people coming in from out of town, they say, 'How can that house still be like this? What's wrong with the neighbors?'"
Chambers and her neighbors hope to have a resolution, just like residents on Talbot Street, and soon.
"We pay a lot for these houses and in property taxes," Ritzman said.
"Even an empty, clean lot would be better," Chambers added.
Staff writer Shelly Meron covers Albany, El Cerrito and Kensington. Reach her at 510-243-3578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.