LOGAN – Logan City Council has recently delved into the issue of housing availability, and the impact on it of city housing regulation. At its meeting Tuesday night, Council ended up tabling on second reading an ordinance that would strengthen city code enforcement, postponing further discussion of it until its next meeting on Nov. 23.

Councilman James Robinson (R), at large, moved to table proposed Ordinance No. 69, 2021, which would adopt sections 153.09, “Vacant Buildings,” section 153,10, “Foreclosed Properties and Buildings;” and section 153.11, “Rental Dwelling Permit,” and add them to the city’s existing structure code. The ordinance also repeals chapter 150, “Registration of Vacant Property,” of Logan’s Code of Ordinances.

Robinson said Tuesday that he wanted to table the second reading of the ordinance because he sees “some things I want to clean up in that.”

During its Tuesday, Oct. 26 meeting, Council discussed code enforcement of rental units at length, due in part to Ordinance No. 69, but also because of the city’s ongoing efforts to establish code enforcement.

Councilwoman Shirley Chapman, 2nd Ward, who is also a board member of the Hocking Metropolitan Housing Authority (HMHA), critiqued the ordinance for not exempting metropolitan housing from rental permit fees; not only are metropolitan housing units inspected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at least once every two years, but the agency cannot afford to pay a $100-plus fee for each of its more than 150 units, she argued. She said she submitted a request for this exemption through the city law director.

According to Ordinance No. 69, 2021, under section (D), “Registration of Properties in Default and Reo Properties,” subsection (6), the responsible party, i.e. a landlord, shall pay a non-refundable $125 fee for each registered rental property to cover the costs of the registry, including but not limited to: inspection to verify registry information; code enforcement inspection; and administrative costs incurred in determining the appropriate fee.

“This just seems like piling on to me – to have more inspections when the HUD inspections are already thorough and already required by the federal government,” Chapman said in October, adding that HMHA has its own maintenance staff as well. “Metropolitan housing has to inspect every unit every time somebody moves out — at a minimum, it’s every two years.”

Chapman suggested HMHA does a “good job on its own” and that “metropolitan housing just can’t afford” the inspection fee.

According to a 2019 state audit of HMHA, it had a total net position of $3,988,546, less than 2018’s $ 4,335,665 net total. Its total revenue in 2019 was $3,938,358 (again less than 2018’s) and its total expenses were $4,285,477. It began 2019 with a net position of $4,335,665 and ended with a net position total of $3,988,546. Most of its assets lie within the buildings it owns, and most of its expenses – over $1 million worth – were “housing assistance payments.”

HMHA Executive Director T. Nathan Blatchley appeared before council Tuesday to share upcoming funding opportunities and redevelopment projects HMHA is to conduct within the coming months.

“On a reasonable timeframe, though, all of our public housing, which is 164 units, will be redeveloped in some form or another over the next four to six years at a total cost of just under $20 million,” Blatchley said.

Logan Village will change “from public housing to what’s called ‘multifamily affordable housing,’” Blatchley said. “From an operational perspective, it is still owned by the housing authority but we’ll have an LLC created – a nonprofit LLC that will become a component of the housing authority.”

HMHA will ensure that all eligible families who currently live in Logan Village can stay in the village, Blatchley said.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Blatchley said. “I think it’ll make a big difference, and (this) kind of investment should ensure that Logan Village is competitive in the local market. It is the last to have this type of development in our town to be able to redevelop, and be more competitive in terms of what we attract (in) renters. And it will have a positive economic impact on the long-term viability of the housing authority. Public housing doesn’t pay for itself at all.”

Logan City Code Enforcement Officer Joe Posey said Oct. 26 that building inspection and code enforcement is desperately needed in Logan, even its subsidized and metropolitan housing-owned units units. He alleged that four of eight units he’s working to condemn passed their subsidized housing inspections.

Posey also said HUD is often unwilling to share a list of its subsidized properties. He explained Oct. 26 that there are “maybe 2,000” total rental units in the city of Logan, and though HMHA owns units, there are private individuals (property owners) who choose to participate in housing choice voucher (HCV) programs.

“When an agency’s self-inspecting, they have a vested interest in passing their own unit,” Posey said to the council. “We (the city) don’t have a vested interest in passing or failing a unit.”

“Since we don’t have a building department, we don’t have anyone to enforce anything in the residential arena,” Posey had said in October. Whether it be a vacation rental or home, at the moment, there are no agencies to inspect homes for fire and dwelling safety, he explained. “Without that tool – this is the tool we have to try to find these places that are quite frankly dangerous, and are fire traps.”

On Tuesday Posey introduced his assistant, Bethany Neville, who will be working as a part-time code enforcement officer. Nevill has been with the city for about a month, Posey said. Neville expressed her enthusiasm for her new job and said she looks forward to helping the city.

If Logan opts not to charge inspection fees for metro housing, it won’t be unique. According to David Riggs, City of Athens Director of Development and Code Enforcement, that nearby city does not inspect metropolitan housing authority rental properties, nor does it charge inspection fees to them. Athens has an estimated population of 24,536, according to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data, about 3.5 times the size of Logan’s estimated population (7,020).

“Our stance is that these properties are managed by state and federal regulations and are supposed to have safety inspections through the governing state authority,” Riggs said in an email on Thursday, Oct. 28. “Conversely, if we get rental complaints about housing safety (from) these properties, we refer them back to the metropolitan housing agency.”

In another southeastern Ohio city, Belpre, Code Enforcement Officer Leonard Wiggins said in a Nov. 4 email that the city does not do rental inspections, “thus there (are) no fees collected.”

In a comment provided by Chapman via email Thursday, Oct. 28, HMHA Executive Director T. Nathan Blatchley stated that HMHA has not had any properties condemned by code enforcement.

“We have had an issue with the health department and two units in the last two years,” Blatchley stated. “HMHA uses HUD’s Housing Quality Standards requirement and then adds onto it as well. These standards are used to conduct inspections both prior to lease-up and regularly during tenancy. HMHA regularly fails units for not meeting those standards. On average, 10% of all inspections result in a failed inspection. In the last two weeks, we have failed 12 units out of 20 total inspections. Landlords have 30 days to fix the failings (certain items must be fixed in 24 hours), and then we reinspect. If a unit fails its initial lease up, we won’t add it to the program until it passes.”

Councilman Dave Driscoll, 3rd Ward, said Oct. 26 that he has heard about the impacts of Logan’s apparent affordable housing shortage.

“Come up and talk to my associates at work, talk to them –they go in this town and try to get a house, and it’s sky-high,” Driscoll said. “There’s people making money... (and) some of these people cannot find affordable housing.”

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