LINDEN — When 4th Ward Councilman Derek Armstead noticed there were foreclosed properties in his neighborhood that were overgrown with grass and weeds, he decided not to call Town Hall, but to pitch in and do something about the problem.
“Look, this is where we live. How do you not want it to look nice?” the councilman said in an interview with LocalSource, adding that he personally got tired of looking at one particular property and decided to do something.
Armstead is hoping other residents will do the same, considering the city has 55 homes abandoned due to foreclosure, and an overworked Department of Public Works that has 37 parks to maintain during the summer months.
“These abandoned properties are taxing our public works employees,” the council member said, adding that is precisely why he is encouraging other residents to join the effort he calls, “Don’t Trash it, Just Can It.”
“If I can do it, so can others,” he said, noting that residents choose a nearby house then band together to mow the lawn and make it presentable. He pointed out that many foreclosed homes are owned by out-of-state banks, and therefore there is little incentive for them to maintain the properties. The city can put a lien on these properties if public works has to maintain them. However, Armstead thinks his way is a more neighborly way of handling things.
His campaign is geared toward making every day Earth Day in Linden.
“With millions of homes in foreclosure, the numbers of unkept vacant houses is growing and no city is immune,” he said, adding that with all the rain the area experienced recently, the weeds are getting higher and higher on these properties.
“Unfortunately, high weeds and bushes is a perfect hiding place for raccoons, possums and illegal dumping,” Armstead explained, adding that one resident told him that he saw a man dumping his trash on the tall grass of an abandoned home.
“I realized we had a problem here in Linden when I got out of my car to go shopping and saw dirty diapers in the parking lot of the store. It’s just laziness,” Armstead said. “How hard is it to just walk over and put the trash in the garbage? We all have to pitch in and try to help out.”
The issue was brought to light when a bed, diapers and spoiled food were dumped in front of the council member’s property located on St. George Avenue.
“This is just shameful. I work hard to keep my property clean, only to have someone dump their garbage in front of it,” Armstead said, adding this only fueled his desire to ensure the city begins to help clean up its neighborhoods.
“I’m asking residents, in a spirit of cooperation, to support this campaign to reduce litter and illegal dumping and if they have the time, mow the lawn of an abandoned house, or cut down the weeds,” he said.
So far, Armstead has been successful in getting residents interested in his campaign. Recently a group of residents pitched in to help in a community clean-up effort in Ward 3, sprucing up Dobson Park. The next stop, Armstead said, is Saturday, Aug. 31 at 8:30 a.m. in Tremely Point, which is in Ward 7.
“Get to know your neighbors. Sometimes the owner of that eyesore is a person who may simply not be able to take care of the problem for health or other reasons,” the council member said.
“People need to understand that throwing trash like bottles, paper, cans and food on the ground is littering. That is not only illegal, but also toxic to the environment. We all need to take responsibility and commit to taking care of planet earth,” said Armstead, adding that he strongly believes with the cooperation of the community, the campaign will be a success.