Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Evolution, not revolution

Housing task force gives report to city council
By David Hotle | Jul 18, 2013
Housing task force chair Karen Gorham, left, and landlord responsibility promotion subcommittee chair Kathy Henry give part of a report to the city council Wednesday.

Washington was once called “The Cleanest City in Iowa.” The 14-member Housing Task Force believes that Washington can return to that, and made that point clear as the members gave reports to the Washington City Council Wednesday evening.

The presentation started with a multi-media show of 70 Washington houses the committee had identified as being problems. The presentation began with a map of homes that the comprehensive plan had identified as problem properties. Many had garbage in the front.

“There is a lot we have in this community to be proud of,” Committee member John Moenck said. “There is one segment of our community we should all be ashamed of.”

Moenck said that he respects the right of people to do what they wish with their own property, until it affects his personal enjoyment and his property. He gave examples of how deteriorated houses had driven down neighboring property values.

Committee chair Karen Gorham said that studies have shown the average home in Washington had deteriorated more than average. She said that members of her class reunion had noticed the deterioration when they visited last October. She said the committee is a grassroots movement to help beautify the community. Addressed were such things as property values, health and safety issues, vacant houses, and trash accumulation.

“The good news comes after the bad news,” Gorham said. “The bad news is there is no magic brush and no quick fix. The good news is this dedicated community spent about 1,000 hours looking for solutions.”

Four subcommittees gave reports from the research they had done and made suggestions to the council of possible solutions to problems identified.

Craig Davis, chair of the nuisance abatement subcommittee, recommended the city provide adequate funding to abate nuisances, including funding additional personnel to assist in nuisance cases. He also recommended developing a system defining timelines for nuisance abatement and if the situation is not resolved, “prompt and aggressive” legal action be taken. Other recommendations included the council regularly review city codes on nuisances and to add yard waste and yard clippings as a nuisance.

Ed Lins, chair of the housing stock improvement subcommittee, recommended the city establish an acquisition and demolition program for residential and commercial properties modeled on a program implemented by Mt. Pleasant and provide a budget for the program to allow the system to address dilapidated properties. The subcommittee also recommended applying to the Washington County Riverboat Foundation for funds to set up the program. Another recommendation was for a “better block” project in which a block is chosen and the city helps to clean it up. Another recommendation was to lead discussions to investigate shared housing.

Kathy Henry, the chair of the landlord responsibility promotion subcommittee, recommended a requirement that landlords get a rental permit for occupancy and a health and safety inspection every two years in order to do business in Washington.

“Regular inspections of rentals would send the message that this city cares about the condition of rentals,” she said.

The subcommittee also identified a “basic needs” list that all rental housing should be required to have.

The neighborhood pride enhancement subcommittee discussed finding new ways to communicate to promote safe and healthy neighborhoods. Chair Trent Whisler also discussed using volunteer power to accomplish some things that need to be done.

Gorham said that she hoped that the solution could be “evolution, not a revolution. She said an evolution would be a slow and steady progress. A revolution, she said, is when the solution pits landlords against tenants, the city against landlords, or the city against tenants. She stressed it should be a positive change.

“There were a lot of hours, there was a lot of effort and there was a lot of concern expressed,” Mayor Sandra Johnson said.

Johnson said that discussion on the presentation would be included on the agenda during the July 24 council workshop.

In other business, the council:

• approved Aaron Wulf’s request for urban chickens;

• reapproved Bill Fredrick, Rhonda Steel, and Deran DeLong to the planning and adjustments commission;

• approved $10,000 for a sewer separation study;

• approved $35,000 for engineering services to design the southwest industrial park;

• approved $4,500 for engineering services for widening Country Club Road;

• held a public hearing on vacating a portion of East Sixth Street and gifting it to Washington County, then approved the first reading of an ordinance to do so;

• held a public hearing on the West Tyler Street paving project and awarded the contract to DeLong Construction for a bid of $263,067;

• approved the first reading of an ordinance establishing additional stop signs in a school zone; and

• approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the animal control ordinance.

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