What is Community Maintenance all about?
In Henrico County, there is a growing recognition of the value of preserving and maintaining existing neighborhoods for current inhabitants and future generations. To that end, the County Supervisors and managers have established a Community Maintenance Program in 1997 operated from the Planning Office and supported by several County agencies.
These included blighting influences such as inoperable vehicles, trash and debris, rodents, tall grass and weeds, outside storage of furniture, appliances and junk, along with dangerous buildings and other building code violations that lead to structural deterioration. While enforcement is a tool, there is a strong focus on prevention and elimination of blighting influences through educational initiatives. Another key is the coordination of volunteer assistance for the indigent and disabled who cannot reach code compliance through their own efforts.
The function was reoriented and moved into the Planning Office in June of 1997. The personnel complement consists of one Community Maintenance manager, a planner/volunteer coordinator, a resource coordinator (for volunteer activities), two office assistants, ten field inspectors, and one inspector supervisor. Dozens of volunteers are also employed on a project specific basis.
The need for the program was identified as some mature County neighborhoods were noted to have an increasing number of appearance type zoning violations and building maintenance problems. Research showed that as houses and properties become blighted a message is sent that no one cares about the area. As this negative environment grows so does the disregard for other areas of property maintenance and code compliance. The growing perception that a neighborhood is in decline can accelerate disinvestment and sometimes precedes incidents of crime and disorder.
Education and outreach are important parts of the program. Traditional code compliance initiatives result in enforcement oriented encounters between local government employees and citizens. Given the willingness of the average resident to voluntarily comply, it was recognized that most violations would be corrected and even prevented if resources were used to raise awareness of code requirements. Division staff has employed public service announcements and informational brochure mailings. Additionally, they have attended over seventy-one neighborhood meetings since July of 1997 to discuss particulars and exchange information with County residents. This partnership approach has contributed to an overall acceptance of and buy-in for the effort and calls for even greater levels of activity.
Several neighborhoods have been targeted as pro-active areas. Cleanup day programs have been established where citizens are notified by mail of the opportunity to remove trash and debris from their property by placing it at the curb for pickup. Volunteers have been used to assist those in need by cleaning up individual properties (raking, grass cutting, bush trimming, trash and debris removal) and moving the items to the curb. In target and non-target areas, volunteers have painted houses and performed other light maintenance and repairs. This improves the comfort and safety of the disadvantaged as well as overall neighborhood appearance.
The Community Maintenance Division was moved to the newly created Department of Community Revitalization in May of 2004.