Pat Smith and a band of volunteers from the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association took a trip this time last year out to Norwood Avenue to clean up the area. By the time they were finished, they had filled up 40 bags worth of litter.
Within a week, debris was once again strewn across the road, sidewalk and nearby parking lots, Smith said.
“For people passing through, it gives it a very distressed, troubled, unsavory look,” said Smith, president of the neighborhood association. “And for the people living here, especially the homeowners who do keep up their property, it drops property values. And they want to leave. They don’t want to live with that.”
Amid a downtown resurgence that has seen millions invested in the Mohawk Harbor development, portions of State Street and some neighborhoods, residents in Hamilton Hill, Mont Pleasant and Goose Hill continue to face quality of life issues as basic as litter in the streets and trash in neighboring yards.
“I don’t care what anyone says,” Smith continued. “Litter makes a difference.”
Crane Street, Seneca Street, Van Vranken Avenue, 6th Avenue and Eastern Avenue are among the worst offenders, according to those who live in the city.
Most community leaders suggest an influx of landlords has led to a decrease in neighborhood pride and interest in keeping properties clean. Some city officials insist there isn’t a litter problem, but are launching an educational initiative aimed at informing youths how to properly recycle and dispose of trash.
Camille Sasinowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, said she believes the problem has gotten noticeably worse in recent years. It coincides with an increase in new renters and landlords, she said, some of whom either don’t bother bringing their garbage out, or who leave it out for days at a time.
Several residents recalled seeing tenants either tossing garbage bags out their window, leaving trash on the curb for days at a time, or tossing fast food bags, pizza slices and more onto the sidewalk or nearby hedges.
“It paints with a very broad brush the appearance of an entire neighborhood,” Sasinowski said.
Robert Harvey, president of the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association, said it creates a poor first impression for potential homeowners or visitors touring the city.
“If you don’t care how you appear, who’s going to move in next to you?” he said.
City leaders are skeptical of the severity of the litter problem, though there are efforts in the works to better educate younger residents about how to properly recycle or get rid of their trash.
“I don’t think we’re dirtier than any other city,” said Floyd Slater, director of solid waste in Schenectady. “I wouldn’t say there’s a problem, I would just say that’s city life.”
Garbage that has sat in the same place for more than four weeks at 574-576 Crane St. (Marc Schultz)
When garbage crews pull up to a property, they take everything that’s contained in a bin or bag, Slater said. If there’s loose debris, it gets left there, and crews call a dispatcher to alert them of the issue, he said, and the nuisance inspector is alerted.
A nuisance inspector can cite a property if garbage is left out too early, too late or improperly, Slater said, and the owner is typically given 24 hours to fix the issue before facing a fine.
The city has only one nuisance inspector, who is also responsible for citing issues like overgrown grass.
The city code states individuals caught littering face a $250 fine for a first offense, and a $500 fine for a repeat offense. For offenses related to waste disposal, those in violation face a $250 fine for a first offense, then a $500, $750, $1,000 and $1,500 fee for each subsequent violation.
Mayor Gary McCarthy, speaking to residents in May at a Goose Hill Neighborhood Association meeting, said there’s a seasonal element to litter, meaning it’s more visible once the snow melts in the spring and during warmer months. The city is looking to do increased outreach and education about waste disposal, he said, then looking at citing properties not in compliance.
The city is attempting to get its youngest residents in the habit of properly getting rid of waste through its “It Starts With Me” program. After Schenectady moved to single-stream last year, where all recyclables can go in one bin, it passed out 6,000 info sheets in Spanish and English explaining what can be recycled and how to do so, Slater said.
About a month ago, every child in the school district, or at least one in a set of siblings, was sent home with fliers explaining the recycling method again, Slater said.
The city is in the process of compiling a new “waste collection guide,” which will be mailed to 33,000 addresses. Geared toward children, the booklet will include information about recycling, littering and keeping the community clean, Slater said.
A few neighborhood leaders suggested educating youth is a key step toward eliminating the problem, but they also say it’s become so ingrained for some property owners to just leave their trash out or toss debris on the ground that it will be nearly impossible to reverse in the short-term.
“You’re never going to bring some of these neighborhoods back to the way they were, because people don’t care anymore. They just don’t have that same generational connection to the neighborhood,” said Larry Ahrens, who lives on Crane Street.
Some residents have taken it upon themselves to chip away at the problem, which is where they believe the solution must start.
One woman in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood volunteers to pick up litter along the road for a couple hours each week, Harvey said, and in return, she gets a Price Chopper gift card as a sign of appreciation.
Sasinowski said some business owners in Goose Hill, like Jim Henderson, are diligent about keeping their storefronts clean. Henderson, owner of The Only Place beauty salon on Van Vranken Avenue for 46 years, said he thinks the litter problem has intensified in the last five years, and he often finds himself picking up trash from neighboring businesses.
“If neighborhood people are complaining and doing their best to maintain their neighborhoods, then the city has to start taking action,” Sasinowski said. “Without that support, we don’t have a leg to stand on, but it’s a two-way street.”