Monday, December 9, 2013
AUGUSTA — A proposal that could require landlords to have their units inspected if they rent to tenants who receive housing assistance is up for council review Thursday.
Augusta police officers Niko Hample, left, and Ben Murtiff search an apartment building on Jefferson Street that was closed by the city on Sept. 12. The City Council will consider Thursday inspections of apartments receiving General Assistance payments.
Staff file photo by Andy Molloy
The proposal was prompted by concerns of councilors and other city officials who worry that some Augusta apartment buildings are deteriorating as they age and could put low-income tenants at risk.
A proposed new General Assistance Housing Ordinance could require apartments and other rental units to be inspected by the city to make sure they meet life safety code, if tenants are getting money from the city to help pay their rent.
City Manager William Bridgeo said it's a bad problem that's getting worse.
"I don't ever recall, in my time here, the kinds of problems we're seeing," Bridgeo said. "We're talking about triple-decker buildings that have stairway structures on the front and back that are both coming off the building. It is increasing to the point where I feel a moral obligation to push this issue and for us to address it. Some of them are just downright awful. There are a lot of really good, responsible landlords here; but for better or worse, whether it's because of the recession or whatever, we have a situation we have to address."
A few landlords attended a previous council discussion of the issue earlier this month but did not have a chance to speak. Thursday's informational council meeting includes an "open comment" period as part of the meeting, during which anyone can address the council.
Councilor David Rollins said landlords could choose to not rent to people receiving General Assistance housing help from the city if the city adopts an ordinance that is too strict.
Mayor William Stokes noted the ordinance could help the city avoid subsidizing unsafe apartments for low-income residents.
"It seems like common sense, that the city would be able to inspect a property if it's paying for it," Stokes said.
The city has closed seven apartment buildings, and one floor of another building, totaling 42 units, in the last year because they had safety code violations so severe city officials ordered the tenants out.
Bridgeo said the city typically helps 100 to 120 low-income residents pay for housing annually through General Assistance, which is partially reimbursed by the state.
Councilors are scheduled to discuss the housing ordinance at their meeting Thursday, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.
Councilors are also scheduled to:
• discuss a shortfall in city funds resulting from a reduction in municipal revenue sharing money from the state;
• discuss the fiscal year 2014 capital improvement program; and
• discuss the fiscal year 2013 year-end financial report.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647