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Paddy McLaughlin, Fargo, Published December 07 2013

Letter: Once family-friendly north side deteriorating into a drug ghetto

There was a double murder on my block the morning of Nov. 23. The victims died in the alley across from my home. Once upon a time, the north side of Fargo was a nurturing and growing community.

My father grew up on First Street, and he and all of his siblings went to school at Horace Mann. The oldest neighborhoods were close and well cared for. I grew up by Northport. This was the newest part of town, and young middle-class fathers were moving their families there.

Life was safe. We all played outside till “dark thirty.” As with many cities, with the building of a mall on the outskirts of town, Fargo’s growth began its push south. A once thriving downtown slowed its breath and pace as business retreated also.

Lovely old neighborhoods began a slow decline, and as elders died, many of the older homes came on the market and were purchased for rental by greedy slumlords who scooped up homes that once housed births, family reunions, neighbors, job advancements, graduations, weddings, funerals ... life, and remodeled them into multidwelling apartments and rented them for outrageous sums that could be filled only by hordes of college kids living together.

The lovely, old homes became halfway houses for parties, drugs and decay.

The next invading element was sex offenders, meth and weed dealers, crack smokers, heroin users, those in trouble with the law – to whom the slumlords gave rental precedence, at outrageous sums, as these folks could not obtain housing elsewhere. We are told this is an act of compassion, but it is an act of greed. These homes barely pass as habitable houses.

I love my home. It is 110 years old, and for most of its life it has housed only one family. My neighborhood is filled with good people trying to raise families in harsh conditions. We have an active neighborhood association that works to make peace with landlords, college students, renters and homeowners, yet the drug houses persist, and crime is increasing.

You could now say that I live in the “ghetto” minus the drive-by shootings. Will the north side become like large cities, where the older neighborhoods are taken over by gangs and crime? Or can we claim the right to live well and safely within the lower economic districts of Fargo?

Can Fargo reclaim its entire city? Can slumlords be fined and prosecuted?

Solutions are there. We just need to think outside the box and take back the night.