BILLINGS — The city of Billings is cracking down on dilapidated properties, creating a new task force to attack the problem from a variety of angles.
Stephanie Anderson and her husband have lived on the 100 block of South 29th Street since April, but next to their neat complex of apartment homes lies what the city of Billings calls a problem property.
“Owners of the properties on either side are problem properties, that were approached by the same individuals that took this, which used to be a problem property. Offered them to take it over and provide exactly the same thing that was being done here, and they refused,” Anderson said on Monday.
Unfortunately for the couple, that means the home next to theirs has become a haven for squatters.
“And so that property’s being used for people when they need shelter which is, in Billings, a pretty big problem,” said Anderson.
The city is now targeting these properties and the problems they create as homes like these are draining city resources.
“We’re seeing, you know, a few properties in Billings that are causing kind of an excessive amount of calls, whether it be police, code enforcement, you know, different departments,” said Kevin Iffland, the city of Billings assistant city administrator.
The goal of the Problem Property and Crime Strike Force is to be proactive and identify nuisance properties before the problems start piling up.
“What can we go in and do to either educate some of the property owners, if it's code enforcement issues or if we’ve got neighborhood disputes going on, what can we do to try to resolve that dispute before it escalates further,” Iffland said.
The task force will be made up of community members, and city leaders, including the fire marshal and a representative from animal control. It’s a coordinated effort to tackle the problem made possible by the recent passage of the Public Safety Mill Levy.
“Obviously we want police involved on this because that’s the law enforcement arm of this along with their crime analyst. Code enforcement is the other big piece and player here. We’d also like to get municipal court involved,” said Iffland.
It’s an approach that Anderson certainly supports. She just wants property owners to be held accountable and for the temporary residents who call the house next door “home” to be safe.
“There’s nothing safe about sheltering in an abandoned home. And most of the girls that are regulars that stay in these houses do not have appropriate protection,” said Anderson.