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City council OKs housing program concept

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The Roswell City Council gave the go-ahead for the city to pursue work on a program to increase affordable housing at its meeting Thursday.

Resolution 20-54, authorizing conceptual approval for the housing program, passed 6 to 2.

Voting in favor of the program were Councilors Jacob Roebuck, Margaret Kennard, Judy Stubbs, Jeanine Best, Angela Moore and Barry Foster. Voting against were Councilors Juan Oropesa and George Peterson. Councilor Savino Sanchez was absent. Councilor Jason Perry was attending by phone for the first nearly half-hour of the meeting but left the meeting shortly after discussion on the resolution began due to a prior speaking engagement. He rejoined the meeting by phone later in the evening.

The housing program would put city-owned properties for sale at market value — or less in some cases — for the development of single-family or multi-family housing units and simplify the fee structures for development.

Many of the properties that are being considered for the program include those the city has obtained through the Clean and Safe program that removes derelict structures. Those houses are torn down and a lien placed on the property.

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In order to accomplish that, changes will need to be made to city codes regarding utility fees and building regulations, and a policy developed for the permitting process, Bill Morris, community development manager, said.

“We’re going to be spending a lot of time, a lot of man-hours, putting this thing together because there’s got to be a lot of changes that are happening. What we would not like to do is spend a lot of time putting a program together and then not having it be able to be passed by the City Council,” Morris said of seeking conceptual approval for the program.

Councilors questioned a provision in the plan that if an owner-occupied housing unit is sold within five years, the seller must remit any profit to the city.

Foster said that provision might deter people from taking part in the program. Someone might have full intentions to live in the home for five years, he said, but a job transfer or other life change could cause them to sell early.

“The idea that they’re going to walk away from all that they’ve invested in, to me, would cut it back and that’s not what the city is looking at. I would see that we would want what we invested in the property back and not everything else,” he said.

City Manager Joe Neeb said the intention of that provision is to protect the taxpayers’ investment in the program.

“The idea is that the five-year window is to make sure we have a taxable property for five years so that the taxpayers’ partnership share is protected for at least that long,” he said.

Oropesa said the city should look at using the housing program to help homeless people.

“Perhaps we as a city would be able to work with the homeless families or individuals and see if they would be able to pay the lien and let them take over and try to build a house to get out of the conditions, the weather and what have you,” Oropesa said.

“I know it’s very hard for them to do, but again, if the city is willing to really work with them, we would be able to provide some kind of assistance or resources to be able to help them get in a home that is bound to be demolished. Perhaps we can save homes in that manner instead of demolishing them,” he said.

“One of the challenges we have is the way the state law is written. Essentially, when we find a home that’s in a dilapidated condition, our only course of action is to condemn the property and remove it,” Neeb said.

He said it’s possible the program could be designed to prevent houses from being demolished and said the city is willing to work with anyone who wants to help the homeless.

“We’re willing to work with anybody to put homes back into our neighborhoods,” Neeb said, noting there have been recent proposals for tiny homes for that purpose.

“Anything we can help (with) to rebuild that neighborhood, we want to get there. When talking about the homeless population, you have to get to the core root of what that issue is and get them the help they need at that point,” he said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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