The Herald-Dispatch |

Neighborhood Issues in Huntington and Cabell County
Here we discuss issues of importance to every city and neighborhood in Cabell County, W.Va. What do you see as issues? What are the most pressing needs? What positive things are happening? Together, we can make Huntington and Cabell County a better area in which to work, play, study and raise a family. Have your say right now. Just click on the "Post Comments" button at the end of each posting; you can post anonymously. Together, we will accomplish anything we can imagine!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Huntington Urban Decay & A Better Way

Progressively, Huntington neighborhoods have become victims of urban decay. Over several decades parts of our city have continued to spiral into a state of deplorable disrepair. Signs of this decay have included population loss, housing stock deterioration and increases in crime. In addition, many neighborhoods that have otherwise well-maintained homes, are scared by random fire-damaged and/or dilapidated properties.

Urban decay is caused by a wide variety of factors, including, but not limited to, the construction of highways and freeways through urban neighborhoods, government lending practices, racism, natural economic cycles and other social factors. In Huntington, a large portion of the number of sub-standard housing units can be traced to absentee landlords and, especially, some landlords who prey on low income families - and college students who can’t pay for their education and high rent at the same time. So, these folks rent an apartment or house from these (yes, I’ll say it) “slum landlords” for rents that are too high for the poor physical condition of the rental units - and then have to tolerate the landlords refusal to maintain the space in a safe and liveable condition. Yes, you know I speak the truth!

Repairing broken neighborhoods and preventing future decline has not been a priority for the leaders we have elected to govern us, nor has the lack of enforcement of building and health codes helped the situation over the years.

I propose the end of the road for landlords from hell and a better deal for people in shared accommodations. A strict new licensing system will improve safety and conditions in student residences and shared houses throughout Huntington. Owners will be required by law to apply for a license, which the City of Huntington may refuse to issue if properties are not in compliance with all building, fire, electrical, plumbing, health, trash collection and safety codes and ordinances. Slum landlords will face prosecution and fines of up to $5,000, if they fail to meet rigorous standards of safety and quality.

The vast majority of Huntington landlords are responsible, but we have to clamp down on the minority who don't play by the rules. The attitude of some unscrupulous owners means tenants are putting up with poor conditions in unsafe, overcrowded properties. This is simply not acceptable in the 21st century and we must take action to ensure all landlords meet the same standards. This new landlord licensing ordinance will make it the duty of the City of Huntington to inspect and monitor shared properties and the power to act when they are below standard. The city will be able to refuse licenses where there are concerns over factors such as fire safety, physical conditions and bad management standards. They will also have powers to search properties suspected of operating without a license and instigate prosecution in such cases.

Good landlords would have nothing to fear from this proposed landlord licensing law, but bad ones will have everything to fear. They will now have to improve fire and gas safety, toilet and cooking facilities and the general condition of properties, while repairing and maintaining each unit within a reasonable period of time after being notified by a tenant. Once a license is achieved, however, the guarantee of high standards it brings will improve the status of the private student and low-income housing sectors and make properties easier to let. This new law will be particularly welcome for Marshall University students living away from home and the hundreds of our citizens who must find housing they can afford while being at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. It's time for our city's political leaders to act ... let's have a little less talk and a little more action!