News 8 Investigates: Condemned Homes – Part 1

The number of condemned properties in the city is at its highest point since 2011.

A recent merger between the La Crosse Fire Department and the La Crosse Building and Inspection Department is intended to identify and fix homes in need of repair more quickly and efficiently.

Both departments said they are focused on making sure everyone has a safe place to live.

Here’s a look at the number of condemned homes in the city over the past five years according to numbers provided by the La Crosse Building and Inspection Department.

Year Condemned Homes 2011 85 2012 43 2013 31 2014 63 2015 (Jan-June) 27

Carla Pena has lived on 22 nd Street South for about 11 years.

“La Crosse is a good community because it has a lot of things that people want,” said Pena.

Unfortunately, there are also some things people don’t want.

“The house next to me has been condemned for about two years,” said Pena.

The home sat vacant for nine years prior to being condemned.

“Those are examples that really, for me, that creates a sense of urgency that we’ve got to get these things addressed,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat. “Because 11 years, and then two years with a property with a green sticker on it, is just not acceptable.”

Now the Fire Department and City Building and Inspection Department have merged to help identify properties in need of repair.

“We want to raise the bar when it comes to the housing stock,” said La Crosse Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland.

“Everybody is entitled to a safe home, whether they’re renting or even owner-occupied,” said David Reinhart, chief building inspector.

The departments are working together to better coordinate the property-repair process. They have started by streamlining their policies.

“We’re taking things one step at a time — dealing with policies and procedures, setting up expectations, looking at how we can make the system more efficient, and that’s what we’ve been concentrating on,” said Cleveland.

The fire chief said the mission of both departments was so similar that working together to find deteriorating housing is a natural fit.

“Eventually we want to get to a situation of where firefighters are on the street. They see the real obvious ones, and they can be a check and balance and say, ‘Hey, listen. This property is in really tough shape,'” said Cleveland.

Community members are also being encouraged to report properties in need of repair.

“We can’t condemn a building if we don’t know that there’s problems,” said Cleveland. “That’s the collaborative relationship we need to have with the community.”

For Pena, after realizing she was living next to a vacant home, she finally did speak up.

“I called my alderman to find out what I could do about it, after it had been vacant for 11 years and no one seemed to really be taking care of it that well,” said Pena.

The home was inspected.

“We didn’t know the water was shut off,” said Reinhart.

As a result, the property was condemned. It’s this type of partnership the fire department and inspection department are hoping to build with the community in an effort to revitalize our neighborhoods.

“It’s not going to be fixed overnight,” said Cleveland. “But I can tell you that it’s high on my priority list, and it’s high on Mayor Kabat’s list. And we are taking this issue very seriously.”

The La Crosse Inspection Department was merged with the fire department in July of last year.