There is an old saying that “if you love someone, set them free; if they come back to you, it was meant to be.” As Better Help explains, this phrase “deals with a struggle that has been with humanity since the beginning: going out of your comfort zone. We are creatures of survival, and we hold on to what we find dear because it makes us feel safe. However, to have the best quality of life possible, we sometimes need to sacrifice that thing to be happier, and if it returns, then great. If not, then it wasn’t meant to be with us.”

Being creatures of habit often is a hindrance to creativity and innovation. When you need something, you will be inclined to get it. If you don’t feel that you need it then you’ll continue strolling (down the shopping aisle) or scrolling (through your social media feed), whichever is your preferred method of shopping. But what about when you don’t know that you need something?

That is the inherent challenge for folks like me. What initiated this article was a response I received to an email. A local media outlet reported on its community’s efforts to address blight. I proceeded to offer assistance and information specific to a “vacant property registration ordinance”. A tool in the fight against blight utilized broadly across the country. The response received from the department director was a blanket “we do not need it”.

Taken on its own, perhaps I would be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they have already engaged outside assistance, were unaware of the vast amount of information on its value, or unaware of the hundreds of communities that successfully utilize it.

However, when viewed alongside another experience, that may not be the reality.

While I was at Safeguard Properties I was responsible for their popular All Client Alerts that were sent to a vast email audience covering the entire spectrum (private sector, local and state governments, not-for-profit, academia etc.) of individuals interested in vacant and abandoned properties, blight, foreclosures etc.,

These alerts were the brainchild of Safeguard’s late founder and chairman Robert Klein who handed off the responsibility directly to me, yet as was his way, micromanaged every aspect. He knew that these alerts established Safeguard as the “knowledge center” and “go-to” entity as the true industry expert.

There was one potential client (bank) that had alluded Safeguard for a while. After one particular alert was released a manager at this bank responded, “remove me and all with my email domain from your distribution list”.

Horrified that I had inadvertently offended them and destroyed any chance of a relationship with this potential client, I proactively went to discuss with Robert. The response is something I will never forget. Robert, never shy, and never one to hold back when he was upset, burst out laughing and said “don’t worry about it”. For one of the few times in my life I was speechless.

Robert then proceeded to type up an email with the aforementioned request and sent it to the entire senior leadership at the bank and copying the manager with a simple message “please see request below, please advise if he speaks for your organization and if I should remove all recipients”. The response was exactly what Robert told me he expected to be – a resounding “absolutely not”.

There are many lessons to be learned from this incident however I took several specific ones. First, Robert knew the value of the information he was providing (at no cost). Second, that this manager was not what one would look for in a leader and perhaps unfortunately for him, his superiors learned that as well.

Personal and professional growth comes through education and experience. Declining free information and tools to assist in this growth is not a positive reflection.

Immediately upon founding MuniReg I implemented a similar alert program (usually no more than 2 times a month) with innovative solutions, emerging challenges, and educational resources from across the country, centered on nuisance properties, foreclosure prevention and all things related to blight mitigation. These too have been well received, with strong positive feedback and sharing amongst colleagues and peers.

When there is a request to unsubscribe, it occasionally will stir up this memory, especially when the request is from a position that is directly tasked with addressing blight etc. Though each community is unique, the issues and challenges they face are not. If a new issue arises in one community it could affect others. If a new approach works in one community, there is a good chance it will work elsewhere.

As a professional but also as a husband, father and individual, I am always seeking to learn and grow. So why do some folks not even want to receive free information (that their peers value), independent of, not thoroughly investigating proven successful solutions that can be implemented at no cost, provide value, time saving staff efficiencies and is revenue positive?

I tend to believe it is due to us being creatures of habit and adverse to change, as opposed to the aforementioned bank manager, who perhaps was not the optimal individual for their position.

Blight is of primary concern issue for many communities, for others not as much. Regardless, even one vacant and abandoned property can be detrimental for an entire neighborhood. A community may not feel they “need” anything but that doesn’t mean they in fact don’t. Irrespective whether it’s due to believing their current policies and procedures is sufficient or that there “are no vacant properties in my community”, not utilizing all tools and resources at one’s disposal is I believe a disservice to the communities these individuals serve.

This is by no means a reflection on any individual or community, The other motivation for this article is where I first thought of it. The opening session at the 2021 American Association of Code Enforcement Conference in Glendale AZ was titled “Making Yourself Essential” focusing on ways to broaden a code enforcement officials’ horizons for personal and professional growth. Day 2 featured an awards luncheon for various categories including education (named after Robert Klein) and innovation. Awards were given to Round Rock TX for their program that (among other components) allows homeowners to borrow tools and equipment for no cost to address code violations. For those that can not retrieve the equipment, code enforcement will bring it to them. Finally, those that can’t physically take the maintenance actions, code enforcement will provide information to faith-based volunteer groups that can assist at no charge. Creativity, innovation and collaboration at its finest!

This is similar to an initiative in Jackson County, FL, that was shared in one of our alerts.

Creativity in blight mitigation is frequently being demonstrated across the country. These should be replicated and implemented.

Code enforcement, nuisance abatement and all issues related to blight is critical to protect communities and maintain property values. Providing proper resources (staff, equipment, training) is often a challenge for local governments. Like the excellent presenters (shout out to Marcus Kellum, Kelvin Beene and all the folks at Standards and Codes Academy), I seek to increase the success of these dedicated and hard working individuals on behalf of the communities they serve.

Tools like vacant property registration ordinances, land banks and conservatorships need to be utilized more. There are partners that can help communities implement these strategies.

We can be creatures of habit and adverse to change, or we can adapt, collaborate, evolve, be creative and be innovators. Our communities deserve the latter.

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