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Residents Taking Action

posted Feb 18, 2011, 12:26 PM by greg vandenberg   [ updated Feb 18, 2011, 12:27 PM ]

Neighbor Empowered by EYES WIDE OPEN

EYES WIDE OPEN participant Carolyn Schaut has taken control in her neighborhood.  Last year, she suffered constant uncertainty and frustration due to the vacant property next to her own. The two story house was an eye-sore, complete with peeling, rotten siding, broken windows, and rusted appliances in the back yard. The owner was nowhere to be found. 

Schaut went about her business for over a year. She was unhappy with the mess next-door, but felt there was nothing she could do since she didn’t even know the responsible party. But when her cat went missing and was discovered trapped in the basement of the vacant house, she decided that enough was enough.  

“He was stuck down there for days.” she said. “He jumped in through a broken basement window and couldn’t get back out. We pried open an upper window to get him out, and that’s when it dawned on me that this house was accessible to the outside. It wasn’t just ugly.  It was totally unsafe.” Not long after the cat rescue, Schaut found out about EYES WIDE OPEN, a neighborhood action plan from Foreclosure Response that provided her with a number to call for help. 

“I didn’t know about the housing code and my right to report violations.” stated Schaut, “I didn’t even know who to call!”  After receiving the basic EYES WIDE OPEN information, she took action. Schaut began reporting problems with the neighboring house to the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Improvement Dept. Broken siding, broken windows, trash, and accessibility are all examples of illegal negligence for which owners of vacant houses can be assessed fees. Eventually, if things aren’t fixed, the city will do the work at the owner’s expense. Schaut was put in contact with a city inspections officer in charge of her case. Within days, problems were being addressed. Eventually, she even met the owner of the property.  

“I was able to look him in the eye and know that I had demanded his respect for myself and my neighborhood.” Schaut said. “Home repair doesn’t happen overnight, but the trash has been cleaned up and the windows are fixed. The siding is still ugly, but I know there’s an open case with the city and that if it isn’t repaired eventually, the owner will continue to be fined. The house is secure and more importantly, he knows that we won’t put up with an unsafe eyesore on our block.”

When vacant properties are neglected, whole neighborhoods suffer. Streets become unsafe, property values diminish, and surrounding homes become less appealing. Programs like EYES WIDE OPEN make it quick and easy for responsible neighbors to take the first step toward creating safer and healthier environments for themselves, their families, and yes, even their pets.

Grand Rapids residents can get information about EYES WIDE OPEN at this link: