The Henderson County Board of Commissioners met for a special called meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Courtroom/Commissioners' Conference Room of the Historic Courthouse.
Those present were: Chairman Bill Moyer, Vice-Chairman
Also present were: Public Information Officer Pam Brice, Engineering/Facility Services Director Marcus Jones, Planning Director Anthony Starr, Code Enforcement Director Toby Linville, Soil Erosion and Control Chief Natalie Berry, Associate County Attorney Sarah Zambon, and Research/Budget Analyst Amy Brantley.
Absent was Commissioner Mark Williams who had been called out of town on business.
CALL TO ORDER/WELCOME
Chairman Moyer called the meeting to order and welcomed those in attendance, stating that the purpose of this meeting was a Public Hearing to receive citizen comments on the draft Minimum Housing Code.
Chairman Moyer explained that partly because one Commissioner was absent, the Board would not be having any Board discussion at this time. No action will be taken until after Commissioner Williams has a chance to review the tape and the literature (hand-outs), etc.
Chairman Moyer stated that he would schedule action on this item for November 19. That should give the Board time to reflect on the comments presented at this meeting and to get answers to any questions they may have.
PUBLIC HEARING – Draft Minimum Housing Code
Commissioner Chuck McGrady made the motion for the Board to go into public hearing. All voted in favor and the motion carried.
Anthony Starr gave an overview of the draft code. The Draft Minimum Housing Code is a recommendation of both the Comprehensive Plan (adopted 2004) and the Strategic Plan (Strategic Plan identifies this as a goal to be developed in the current fiscal year and possibly implemented in the FY 09-10.
What does a minimum housing code do?
· Provides protection for a community from absentee property owners
· Establishes minimum standards a dwelling must meet in order to be fit for human occupancy (habitable)
· Helps to remedy and prevent the decay and deterioration of places where people live
· Protects those who cannot protect themselves
· Ensures that structures are safe, sanitary and fit for occupancy
· Makes the owner of a structure responsible for its maintenance
What dwellings does it cover?
· Residential structures
1. Single and multi-family stick-built
2. Modular homes
3. Manufactured homes
What parts of a dwelling are covered?
· heating systems
· mechanical/electrical systems
· maximum occupancy
· No residents are removed from their houses onto the streets overnight
· One individual cannot condemn a dwelling
· Owner/tenant can appeal to the Board of Adjustment
How are violations handled?
Anthony Starr explained that this would be complaint driven. The complaint would generate an inspection and either a violation would be found or not. If no violation is found then the case is closed. If one is found, they issue a notice of violation spelling out what needs to be done to correct it. Either the violation is remedied or they can appeal it for an administrative hearing. After that they can appeal to the Board of Adjustment or on to the court system.
Who would administer it and will it be enforced?
· “complaint driven”
· Zoning officials/building inspectors/other county employees can also report possible violations
· Code Enforcement Services Department would administer the program
· First year cost of about $67,720 (Personnel, Equipment and Vehicle)
Chairman Moyer explained that those who have signed up to speak will be recognized and will be allowed four minutes each to speak to this issue.
1. Patrick Kennedy – Mr. Kennedy represents the Affordable Housing Coalition of Henderson County. The Coalition contains members that represent a diverse cross section of the community; non-profit agencies representing seniors, children, working class citizens, and the impoverished as well as the Board of Realtors, League of Women Voters, United Way, and private individuals, all of whom share a common concern for the availability and the quality of decent safe housing here in Henderson County. The Coalition believes that the current draft of the code does not contain enough detail to adequately ensure decent minimum housing conditions. They have draft what they consider to be the minimum amount of detailed requirements required to adequately ensure an effective code. (hand-out of 1 page, two sided document) They believe that adding these provisions will improve the draft code.
2. Eben Franz – Mr. Franz serves on the Boards of the Housing Assistance Corporation and the Affordable Housing Coalition. He has been working with disadvantaged families for more than a decade in a variety of areas, one of which is reliable and safe rental houses. He has attended a number of state-wide and federal HUD seminars dealing with this subject. Over time he has become aware of many situations where charges for rental housing for some of our poorer residents has been far above the 30% of income HUD suggests as the maximum a family should have to spend. Many of these rental units have been found to be substandard, even unsafe. Mr. Franz stated that statistics show that children coming from substandard homes have more and worst illnesses, lose more time from school, have poorer grades and get into more trouble than other children. That’s one of the reasons we need a fair minimum housing code. He thanked the Board for considering this issue.
Katie Sykes – Ms. Sykes works with the Parents as Teachers Program in the Children
In October, 2007 a septic tank exploded. The mother discovered this when she let her special needs 2 year-old outside one morning to play and they both stepped into ankle deep sludge. Mom contacted the landlord and after enduring several weeks of putrid standing water outside her front door she called environmental health at the health department. The landlord finally pumped out the septic tank and installed new covers but warned the residents that if it happened again they would have to pay for it since the system was not that old and shouldn’t be experiencing so many problems.
In August 2007, she began visits with a young mom and her then chronically ill 13 month old. They were constantly at the doctor’s office for breathing difficulties and ear infections. The doctors treated her with antibiotics but could find no underlying reason for the baby’s continual illness. Eventually we discovered there was mold, mildew and fungus growing around one window where it wasn’t sealed properly and the same in the long crack running along the floor board beneath the window. The mother said it didn’t seem to matter what she did, she couldn’t keep that window and the surrounding area clean. When the landlord refused to have the trailer repaired because it was too old and wouldn’t be worth the money, the family moved. The baby hasn’t had so much as a sniffle since then but she will be in speech therapy for the next several years. The chronic ear infections made it impossible for her to hear at a critical age for learning language sounds.
This January I entered a house and could not even remove my coat or gloves. The temperature inside the house hovered just a little over freezing, partially due to a broken window that the family had attempted to fix with thick cardboard and duct tape. The 2 and 4 year old were huddled together on the bed underneath blankets. The Dad said that the landlord had turned the propane off at the tank and attached a lock. The landlord informed Ms. Sykes that she had just had the propane tank filled at a cost of $700 and that as soon as the family paid her the full amount, she would remove the lock and turn on the heat. Ms. Sykes suggested a monthly bill based on usage, paying in installments or even a down payment. The family had about $300 on hand. She refused and said it had to be all or nothing. During that brutally cold period of snow and ice the family kept warm with blankets and space heaters which are extremely dangerous.
Ms. Sykes stated most of the low income families she serves have no voice in the community. They either don’t know who to contact to resolve problems or they fear being evicted and sometimes in response to a complaint or request the landlord raises the rent so high and so suddenly that it might as well be an eviction notice. She spoke on behalf of these families and urged the Board to create and enforce a housing code that protects the most vulnerable members of our community – the children.
Steve Kirkland – Mr. Kirkland is executive director of
5. Peter Hanley- Mr. Hanley was present as an individual of the community. He sits on the Affordable Housing Coalition as a representative of the Board of Realtors but wishes to speak about information “from the street”. He is a realtor of almost 13 years in the community, a property owner, and a landlord. He spoke in favor of a Minimum Housing Code from all of those aspects.
Edward Correy – Mr. Correy is a county social worker stationed at the Council on
Aging. He works with seniors 60 years and older who are at risk of
institutionalization. He also does deinstitutionalization, gets folks out of
institutions that do not belong there. A minimum housing code is absolutely
necessary. Recently he was at a consumer’s home where there were three children
with a disabled mother and a troubled husband. They had very dilapidated living
conditions, needs to be burned down. Mr. Correy said “
In 2003 the City of
Michele Skeele – Ms. Skeele works for the Council on Aging and is a member of the
Affordable Housing Coalition Board. The Council on Aging serves the at risk
elderly of our community each day. Their mission is to keep clients at home in
a healthy environment for as long as possible. Currently nearly a quarter of
the population of
Elisha Freman – Ms. Freman represents the United Agenda for Children and the Children
Shelley Brown – Ms. Brown is an attorney with Pisgah Legal Services. She lives in Fletcher and practices out of
the office on 6th and Blythe in
Again, Chairman Moyer stated that there would not be Board discussion due to the fact that one Commissioner was absent. The Board will take into consideration all the comments expressed.
Chairman Moyer asked that the next time the Board discusses this issue that the chart that Anthony Starr prepared regarding costs and how to reduce them be used and expanded. In this environment, the Board would be reluctant to start a new cost when we’re cutting back currently.
Commissioner McGrady made the motion for the Board to go out of Public Hearing and adjourn at approximately 7:43 p.m. All voted in favor and the motion carried.
Elizabeth W. Corn, Clerk to the Board William L. Moyer, Chairman