Washington Evening Journal
http://washington-ia.villagesoup.com/p/1069662

Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 31, 2014

Housing concerns continue

Gorham stresses the need for enforcement and communication
By David Hotle | Oct 16, 2013
The 500 and 600 blocks of West Jefferson Street are going to be the first blocks to be a part of the Habitat For Humanity Better Blocks project. Many projects to improve the appearance of Washington were recommended by the Washington Housing Task Force and the city council is working to implement many.

Even though the Washington Housing Task Force officially disbanded after presenting its report to the Washington City Council in July, the members of the group are still working to promote a cleaner Washington.
Former task force chair Karen Gorham said that she is still running into people who don’t know exactly what the recommendations for the city were. She said that the 14 former members have been distributing copies of the reports given to the council. She said the report is essentially a “road map” for the city to follow to improve the housing situation. It addressed health, safety and property value issues.
“The response has been tremendous,” she said. “The other response is ‘I haven’t seen any improvement yet.’”
Gorham said that people are looking for visual improvement to houses in Washington. She said that many people in Washington are impatient about seeing changes. She said that the key points of the presentation were enforcement and communication.
“What I have been asking people to do is call their council member and ask how they feel about nuisance abatement and strong enforcement,” Gorham said. “Ask how they feel about having a rental code and having rental properties registered and inspected at least on a biennial basis.”
She said that landlords have the authority to go into a rental property with sufficient notice, and many landlords do that regularly. With the recent methamphetamine problems in town, Gorham said, many landlords want to know what is happening on their property. She also said Washington is behind on inspections, and many other Iowa towns already do regular inspections.
Most city rental codes are based on the International Property Maintenance Code, Gorham said. She also said this is the basis for a list of 20 basic needs that the task force presented to the city council. Some of the needs include having working toilets, hot and cold water, locks on doors, and heating. She said these are the basic needs that should be provided by the landlord.
“They aren’t being provided in some rentals,” she said. “I know that because I have been in some.”
She said the committee has received reports from tenants and social workers regarding apartments that do not have the basic needs. Gorham also said that there are reports from realtors that houses without the needs met have been sold and then rented out the next day.
Problems can occur, she said, because some of the older homes are built for single families, and such things as electrical wiring or plumbing become insufficient if multiple families are housed in the dwelling.
The city also has no rental registration, Gorham said. She said that the city has no way of knowing which houses that are sold are going to be turned into apartments. In some cases, this violates zoning ordinances. She believes the city needs to be able to determine which houses are being used as apartments.
To sum up the findings of the task force, Gorham said there must be enforcement of regulations and there must be communication so people know what is expected of them. She also said there must be city council commitment to improvement.
“We are so behind now, it is going to take a while for them to catch up,” Gorham said. “I’m not sure we have enough funds or personnel dedicated to that cause.”
She said there needs to be a method for the city to take complaints and keep track of the progress on those complaints. Gorham said there is a loss in confidence in city government when a complaint is made and there is no apparent progress on it.
A former member of the city council, Gorham said she understood the problems the city had making its money go as far as it could.
Gorham also said the task force asked the city to recognize people who have made a positive change in the look of the town.
One of the main points Gorham said the committee tried to make is that not everyone had to have a fancy house or they all have to look the same. She said the idea is to help people, especially those who can’t help themselves.
The nuisance abatement committee of the task force recommended several changes to the nuisance ordinance that have been acted on by the city council.
Gorham assured the people of Washington that the problem is being addressed, but said that all the problems won’t be solved overnight. She said it is an ongoing process.
An ongoing housing committee was recommended to aid the city in helping communicate with the public, to take the responsibility off of overworked city employees. The city council is considering forming a committee.
Gorham said that over the last several years there had been a “creeping, silent blight” in many parts of town.
“In the future, if we don’t invest in that, then it won’t do any good to have a nice attractive downtown or homes around the edge, because you are going to have a decaying area in the middle,” she said.

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