A Mount Airy official is taking aim at landlords and others who are neglecting their residential properties, saying he’s doing so not from the standpoint of appearance but safety and health.
“I think that we might have some people who think that minimum housing has more to do with appearance than what I would,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said Tuesday.
Cawley said he is more concerned about situations such as renters in dilapidated homes where owners won’t correct problems, or cases of empty houses with overgrown lots.
Aesthetics, he added, are way down the list on his order of priorities.
Cawley and other members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the city’s Minimum Housing Code during a meeting Thursday which begins at 2 p.m.
Municipal officials first talked about minimum housing regulations during a city government planning retreat in February, which included a member of the planning staff, Steve May, explaining the legal and other tools available to deal with problem situations.
That discussion was fueled by concerns among the commissioners about substandard structures in town, both residential and commercial.
Mayor Deborah Cochran said the one planned Thursday will be a continuation of that.
“One of the board members (Cawley) requested that it be placed on the agenda so we could talk about it more in-depth,” Cochran said of the codes issue.
Cawley said he is interested in learning what direction the February discussion had taken, and to make sure everyone is in agreement about the board’s priorities.
He stressed Tuesday that his main concern is safety and health, pointing out that some have made the idea of housing code enforcement more of an appearance issue.
For example, something needs to be done to address situations in which landlords won’t correct potentially hazardous situations that have put families renting homes in a bind. They can’t take care of the problems themselves and are doing all they can “to pay their rent,” Cawley added.
There might be holes in the flooring or roof, which is “too much of a task for the renter to take on,” the commissioner said.
Another type of health situation Cawley wants addressed concerns empty houses where yards have not been maintained and are overgrown, which can pose threats to neighbors.
“There could be snakes or rats or anything else running around that house that could easily get over to mine,” he said.
“We’ve got other houses that don’t have windows on them” and ones “falling in,” Cawley added. “I don’t want us to allow things to go on (unchecked).”
In addition to the health and safety hazards, such structures also affect neighboring property values, Cawley said.
On the other hand, he doesn’t envision city officials or codes enforcement personnel becoming “appearance police.”
If, for instance, a house was occupied and someone had scraped off old paint and hadn’t gotten around to applying new paint, causing the wood to become weathered — “that is not a reason for us to jump on it,” Cawley explained.
Concern For Owners
Mayor Cochran said Tuesday a solution is needed for problem properties, but one that takes the unique circumstances of citizens into account.
“We have to be mindful that there are many folks who really do want to make improvements to their property, but this is the worst economic breakdown since the Great Depression — so we have to be mindful of that.”
Cochran said one alternative to governmental intervention is neighbor helping neighbor. This has been evidenced through a recent effort at Flat Rock Baptist Church to upgrade the homes of elderly members.
“I think that’s wonderful,” the mayor said. “That is something other churches need to be looking at doing.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.