October 29, 2008
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RECOGNIZED – Dayton housing inspector John Carter, a member of Local 101 (AFSCME Council 8). (Photo credit: Stewart Halfacre)
John Carter, a housing inspector for the city of Dayton and a member of Local 101 (AFSCME Council 8), is one of eight “Public Officials of the Year” chosen by Governing magazine.
An employee of the city’s Division of Housing Inspection for the past 14 years, Carter has been working to solve a problem that is growing in communities throughout the country: the glut of unmaintained, foreclosed houses.
About nine years ago – long before the housing bubble burst – Carter sought a way to find someone – or some entity – to take responsibility for maintaining abandoned properties.
Banks would take ownership, Carter explains, “But you couldn’t locate anybody who would take responsibility” for boarding up a foreclosed house, or cutting the grass. So it became the city’s responsibility by default.
Determined to save taxpayers money as the number of foreclosures ballooned, Carter immersed himself in understanding how the mortgage industry works. Untangling this web of the banking bureaucracy on his own, he learned which companies were legally responsible for property upkeep, then dogged them with calls and e-mails to fulfill their obligations.
“These properties are their collateral assets,” Carter says. “By keeping them secured and maintained, it protects their value.”
Carter’s project now saves the city more than $50,000 annually in boarding-up costs. Since 2004, the city workers have had to nail boards across windows and maintain at least 250 fewer houses a year because of his efforts.
Governing magazine – a national publication that covers state and local government – discovered Carter’s efforts when writer Alan Greenblatt looked into Dayton’s current housing situation. Greenblatt described it in “Two Faces of Foreclosure.”
“I’m beside myself knowing that my work is getting this attention,” says Carter. “The saying, ‘Hard work pays off’ has a whole new meaning for me now.”
Carter, and the other honorees, will be recognized in the magazine’s November issue and at an awards dinner next month in Washington, DC.
“These public officials each asked tough questions, and when they had their answers, they weren’t afraid to act,” says Alan Ehrenhalt, Governing’s executive editor.