Code changes a start, not total fix for substandard housing, council says

Proposed changes to the city’s minimum housing code represent the start, but not a complete solution, to reducing substandard residential conditions, Charlotte City Council members said Monday during the first full council discussion on the recommendations.

The Neighborhood Development Committee has debated strengthening residential code policies in recent months. But in June, they shelved moving it to full council after concerns from landlord groups and affordable housing advocates prompted additional discussion.

Monday, mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt described the changes as a “good first step,” but council member Matt Newton said they were “not a silver bullet.” They’re two of the council members who have advocated for more work on the issue.

Proposals include increased specificity as to how doors and windows, water heaters, roofs and other housing elements are maintained. It also increases non-compliance penalties to $100 per day.

That increase was a compromise: higher than the current $100 fine on the first day and $10 per day thereafter, while lower than an earlier recommendation of a $500 first-day fine and $100 each additional day.

It also outlines a yet-to-be finalized policy to trigger inspections of an entire complex if a certain number of individual violations are found in a close succession.

Councilman Braxton Winston said he would support the changes, only if the committee continues to work on code-related issues. He was the lone vote against moving the recommendations out of committee last week, saying the proposed changes don’t go far enough to ensure landlords provide adequate housing and make improvements before renting to another tenant.

He referred to the situation at Lake Arbor, where management is removing tenants to renovate after months of code violations went unrepaired. Some conditions, including mold, don’t fit into what code enforcement has the authority to address directly, Winston said.

“How do we put an ‘X’ on the door and say nobody can live in there, you can’t do business do business in this unit until you fix it? Until you make it livable?” he said during last week’s committee meeting, adding that the proposals “don’t even come close” to doing so.

“This is what these changes are supposed to do,” he said. “If not we’re just playing games and we’re fooling ourselves.”

Justin Harlow, who chairs the neighborhood committee, said Monday he doesn’t want the council to forget progress made with the changes in search of a perfect solution.

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for the Oct. 14 council meeting. If passed, the changes are expected to go into effect in January.

This work was made possible in part by grant funding from Report for America/GroundTruth Project and the Foundation For The Carolinas.

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Lauren Lindstrom is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering affordable housing. She previously covered health for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, where she wrote about the state’s opioid crisis and childhood lead poisoning. Lauren is a Wisconsin native, a Northwestern University graduate and a 2019 Report for America corps member.
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