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Opinions sought on housing rules

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — The committee appointed by Salisbury City Council to study housing has stopped short of recommending that landlords must register their rental property.
But the committee did suggest the city should establish a code-enforcement board for minimum housing standards, as well as a housing commission to promote better relationships between landlords and tenants and educate people.
City Council will hold a public hearing on the housing recommendations at 4 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall. Anyone can speak for three minutes or less.
Everyone on the Advisory Committee on Better Housing and Neighborhood Stabilization wanted the city to go after bad landlords, co-Chairman Nathan Chambers said.
Rather than force all landlords to register their property, pay fees and undergo required inspections, the committee voted to focus the city’s resources on chronic offenders.
The recommendations “will help us target those individuals and bring them up to minimum standards,” said Chambers, who led the group with co-chairman Lou Manning.
The committee voted 8-2 against a universal rental housing registration program, which was the second-most popular idea at a February public forum attended by more than 100 people.
Code enforcement was no. 1.
The housing committee also hesitated to recommend rental registration because a proposed law in the N.C. House — House Bill 554 — could make such a program illegal, said Joe Morris, the city’s planning director who worked with the group.
“We believe we have a tool in place that will effectively achieve this goal without actually creating a rental registration program,” Morris said.
City staff will be able to use new software to identify every rental property in the city and develop a database, Morris said.
This will allow the code enforcement division, in collaboration with the city’s GIS system, to track case histories and violations, he said.
The committee, which beat its 180-day deadline by one week, recommended to City Council that Salisbury adopt a two-pronged approach to housing with numerous strategies and suggestions.
“Housing is such a multi-faceted issue,” Morris said.
The two tracks include:
• Advocacy and education.
Establish an Advocacy and Fair Housing Commission to promote neighborhood health, fair housing and tenant-landlord relationships. Meet quarterly with staff to develop programs and receive reports on activities related to housing and neighborhood conditions.
Distribute educational materials to residents summarizing the Tenant and Landlord Handbook, which addresses tenant rights and tenant-landlord responsibilities.
Provide a forum for third-party conflict resolution of issues related to fair housing and tenant-landlord relations.
Partner with neighborhood groups such as the Neighborhood Leaders Alliance and the Historic Neighborhoods Alliance to improve community conditions.
• Enforcement.
Establish a Code Enforcement Board by re-purposing the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. Use administrative reviews to enforce inspections and compliance with minimum housing standards.
Ramp-up code enforcement with sufficient resources to focus on problem areas and chronic offenders of city codes.
Review and amend city ordinances to create strengthened, common-sense, minimum housing standards.
Use a debt-collection agency to recover unpaid abatement costs.
Utilize the City View software to identify repeat violators of minimum housing standards and other code violations.
Identify geographic concentration of code violations to target enforcement efforts, especially related to vacant and boarded-up houses.
Consider expanding Community Development Block Grant efforts to additional neighborhoods (such as Green Hills, North Main, Cone Mills).
Pursue an aggressive program of removing blighting influences from at-risk neighborhoods.
Step-up law enforcement through the Special Street Crimes Unit to target high-crime areas.
Build awareness of the Salisbury Neighborhood Action Group (S.N.A.G.) as method of citizen involvement in reporting crime and city code violations. Administer a Demolition by Neglect Ordinance in local historic districts.
City Council appointed the housing advisory committee in November.
Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell praised the committee members, calling them passionate and vocal. She said they attended seven meetings that were two- and three-hours long and spent hours of their personal time researching housing issues.
Council will consider opinions voiced at the public hearing before voting on the committee’s recommendations.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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