Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 21, 2017

Encouraging pride

Washington City Council to create housing task force
By Andy Hallman | Nov 29, 2012
Karen Gorham (front) addresses the Washington City Council Wednesday about the creation of a housing task force to study the city’s residential property. Also pictured are, from left, Richard Gilmore, Robin Plattenberger, Deb Schlegel and Edwin Lins.

The Washington City Council heard from a group of residents who are interested in improving the city’s housing. After hearing from the group, the council directed staff to draft a resolution to formally create a housing task force to study the issue. Mayor Sandra Johnson will appoint the members.
Karen Gorham spoke to the council on behalf of the group, which calls itself the “Grassroots Movement to Improve Washington’s Central Neighborhoods.” She presented the council with four areas pertaining to housing that she and the group would like to improve.
The first item on the list was nuisance ordinances. The group members wrote in their proposal that the city could do a better job of communicating to the public what the ordinances are. The group wrote that the city could send more friendly letters as a reminder to owners who were in violation of an ordinance.
The group’s second item was to improve the city’s housing stock. It suggested using grants from the Riverboat Foundation, ECICOG and other sources to purchase dilapidated homes so that they could be razed and the lots resold.
Landlord responsibility was another area the group touched on. The group would like to see licensing of rental properties with periodic inspection by the city. The group wants to see the city hold landlords responsible for nuisance violations and to hold them accountable to safety standards, such as those pertaining to fire hazards or defective plumbing.
Lastly, the group wants to encourage neighborhood pride, which involves welcoming new people and keeping the town neat and tidy. The group would like to see Washington live up to its motto, “The Cleanest City in Iowa.”
Councilor Fred Stark said he was especially fond of the group’s suggestion to encourage neighborhood pride. He said his native Chicago has developed tremendous neighborhood pride, and he’d like to see the same thing in Washington.
Councilor Russ Zieglowsky said Mt. Pleasant does a neat neighborhood improvement project every year, and that Washington could do something similar. A group of people puts on a “paint-a-thon” in which several homes in town are scraped and given a new coat of paint. The painters are rewarded with a concert.
Councilor Bob Shellmyer said he likes Gorham’s idea of inspecting rental properties.
Gorham said the city has very nice-looking homes on the outskirts of town in the new subdivisions.
“Now the middle of town needs work, too,” she said.
Washington resident Richard Gilmore said the next order of business for the city was to make landlords prove they have gotten safety inspections. He said he owns four rental properties and they have all been inspected for safety.
Councilman Mark Kendall appreciated the work Gorham and the group had done. However, he was worried that the group’s expectations might be too high and that the city could not realistically clean up the housing stock as well as the group would like.
Kendall warned that adding regulations to rental properties might be a disincentive to own rental property, and that this could actually have adverse effects on the quality of rental housing in the city.

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