Housing talks progress
Before the Washington City Council meets again on Aug. 7, building and zoning administrator Steve Donnolly and city administrator Brent Hinson will identify some shortcomings in laws governing housing in Washington.
The council members will also identify which of the recommendations given them by the Housing Task Force on July 17 they want to pursue. During a two-hour discussion during a city council special session Wednesday evening, the council members worked to form a plan of action based on the recommendations. One of the main ideas the council members discussed was that before working on new ordinances to promote a cleaner town, the city should work to enforce the laws that are already on the books.
“I know people are disappointed that we don’t enforce them or get rid of them,” Council member Bob Shelmyer said.
Council member Merle Hagie also wanted to talk about enforcement of existing laws. He suggested starting slowly and dealing with issues that would be simple to address, especially enforcing existing codes before the council begins working on creating new codes.
The 14-member task force was formed to identify problems and possible solutions with housing in Washington. After receiving its report the council is determining how to address the issue.
During discussion, the council discussed the problem of inoperable cars parked on the street or in yards.
Shelmyer also wanted to pursue landlord obligations and inspections. Mayor Sandra Johnson said that she was looking at the city’s comprehensive plan established in 1998. She said it included establishing a housing authority and a rental housing inspection policy.
“I’ve been screaming for eight years that we need to run inspections,” said council member Russ Zieglowsky. “The task force opened my eyes. I guess I had just become complacent living in my hometown. I look at houses now and there is a serious issue with houses.”
Hinson said the discussion had been held about having firetruck drivers trained as inspectors. He said a possibility is that they could be paid overtime to do inspections, then do the paperwork while on shift at the fire department.
Council member Fred Stark recommended developing a standing committee to promote neighborhood pride. The council members all said they wanted the task force to continue in some form. Johnson agreed the council should begin with projects that can be done for little expense but still provide a good product.
Council member Mark Kendall recommended using “a carrot and a stick” method to address housing problems. He said the city had already budgeted $15,000 for another building inspector. He said that he liked the idea of a property maintenance code. He said that he wanted to avoid landlord registration for a year to see if increased enforcement helped with the problem.
In the “carrot” side, Kendall said he wanted the city to expand the program that acquires and removes dilapidated buildings to two buildings per year. He also recommended a revolving loan fund with local banks involved to rehabilitate houses.
Hinson said the hard part of determining a course of action would be the city determining where it wanted its resources to go.
Johnson asked city attorney Craig Arbuckle if the city had the means to enforce codes regarding properties. Arbuckle said the city could use codes and municipal infraction citations, which involved civil crimes and injunctive relief. He said that this is more effective than fines, because a judge orders a certain act and if it isn’t done, the property owner can be in contempt of court.
The council also discussed codes that need to be revised. One code Donnolly identified as a problem is the code that allows trash to be stored outside for 30 days.
Hinson said the issue would be on the agenda for the Aug. 7 meeting and he expects the council to continue discussions on a course of action for the next several months.