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DeKalb housing plans move ahead

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

DeKALB – A licensing program for the city’s landlords was ditched by the DeKalb City Council in favor of a stronger disorderly house provision and annual registration of the landlords.

Under the proposal, the city could prohibit a landlord from renting out a certain property if that property experiences three or more unlawful activities in a certain time frame. If the landlord reaches “strike three,” they could face fines and interior inspections of their property, in addition to the prohibition.

At the City Council’s last special meeting on the recommendations from the city’s Safe and Quality Housing Task Force on Wednesday, City Manager Mark Biernacki presented a list of compromises the staff made with the DeKalb Area Rental Association – a consortium of local landlords who strongly opposed licensing.

Biernacki said the city staff and DARA agreed on all aspects with the exception of registration. DARA wanted a one-time registration with an annual citywide vehicle sticker program picking up the costs of these housing programs. This proposal was not seriously considered by the City Council.

All landlords – regardless of how many units they own – would have to register their units in the city. Registration would occur annually, with a landlord paying $50 for each building they manage. In the case of multifamily homes, a landlord would have to pay $15.42 a unit.

But even with licensing gone, there was still considerable disagreement between the aldermen on how the city should address problems with its housing stock.

Biernacki is proposing creating a “Housing Registration and Inspection Bureau” that would consist of one program coordinator, a clerk, and three inspectors to implement the different housing recommendations. Biernacki estimated the office would cost the city $454,000 a year, not to mention start-up costs for office equipment, about $135,000. The bureau would be funded half by the city’s general fund and half by registration fees.

Aldermen David Jacobson and Dave Baker of the First and Sixth Wards, respectively, said the city could use existing police and code staff, or simply start with one or two people in the bureau.

“I never envisioned five people, necessarily,” Baker said. “I envisioned one or two. If you can have your program coordinator do all of the jobs, why not start with the program coordinator and if ... we need more staff, more police, more code enforcement, then you can hire [them].”

Biernacki said their staffing request was simply an estimate: Five people might not be enough to handle the workload of inspecting 9,000 buildings on a three-year rotation.

“I don’t know if this is ‘all in,’ “ Biernacki said. “It may not be. Do you want to move forward on addressing the issues we’ve identified? And if you want it ... done effectively ... this is the staff you need.”

Aldermen Tom Teresinski and Ronald Naylor of the Second and Fifth Wards, respectively, felt the recommendations were not strong enough. Teresinski said the data the city has gathered demands the adoption of the ordinances by the council.

“They’re all indicative to me of a long-term systemic decline,” Teresinski said. “I think that fact is what brought DARA back to the table to enable us to put teeth into this proposal that was somewhat lacking.”

Mayor Kris Povlsen said in an interview that there never was any guarantee for consensus on the recommendations.

“Not everyone is going to agree with every issue,” Povlsen said. “As we’ve seen with the council, and I’m sure there are some community members who don’t agree with every issue. But that’s what democracy is all about.”

The city and DARA were able to agree on the inclusion of a crime-free lease addendum, crime-free training for the landlords, and a sidewalk exterior inspection program.

Biernacki said the ordinances will be drafted and available for consideration at the council’s Nov. 13 meeting.

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