OLEAN – Early signs of urban rot – including cockroaches – are becoming evident in the City of Olean’s older housing stock.
In recent months, residents of Ward 1 aired their concerns in meetings with city officials. This month, members of the Common Council and Mayor Linda Witte heard from residents of Ward 4 – many sitting in the gallery of Tuesday night’s Council meeting.
Some addressed the cockroach infestation in the neighborhood of North 5th Street – one house on the street in particular has been teeming with cockroaches – impacting the quality of life of the entire neighborhood, residents said.
“I have not been able to open the windows of my home all summer,” one resident of the street said.
“How do you think it feels when you go to get a glass out of the cupboard and there’s a roach in it?” another shouted out during the meeting.
The house at issue has been a problem for several years, according to Code Enforcement Officer Ed Jennings. The residents of the house have been ticketed for code violations on four occasions – but not much else can be done, he added.
“We need help from other entities,” he said. “We need help from the county and state in fixing these kinds of situations.”
City employees have tried four times to exterminate the roaches, and a professional exterminator has offered some guidance. But these measures do not seem to be working, and the cockroaches are infiltrating the entire block, another resident said.
“When we told the exterminator that the roaches were at our house as well, we were told there was nothing they could do about that. They were there for the one property,” another resident said.
Renee Williams, identified as an owner of city rental property, said mandated inspections between tenant occupations would punish responsible landlords in the city.
“I bought my property to protect my neighborhood,” Williams said. “To say that the majority of rental owners in the city are slumlords is simply not true.”
She said the blight problems emanate from a handful of landowners, some of whom are absentee. Property owners need to take responsibility for heir tenants, she added.
Mayor Witte suggested a point system, in which residents would accumulate points on a variety of violations, such as code violations and police visits for noise and domestic situations. Under this system, once tenants accumulate a set number of points, they would be evicted, with other city landlords’ being alerted.
But more needs to be done, Witte said.
“There is only so much that codes can do,” she said.
Witte suggested involving state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Olean, to work toward changing housing standards policies at the state level.
She also said Cattaraugus County needs to offer more assistance.
“We can fine the property owners $100 a violation,” Witte said, “but it is costing the taxpayers thousands to fix these problems.”
Council President Ann McLaughlin suggested creating a committee to “take back our neighborhoods.”