LIMA — After recognizing the size of the effort needed to improve Lima’s housing stock, Lima City Council is now looking at establishing a dedicated task force to pull apart the issue in order to find a workable solution.
Council’s economic and community development committee met Monday to discuss the new initiative. During that meeting, Councilor Carla Thompson asked committee members to kick-start the creation of a new “housing task force” and recommended the city begin the process of putting together a database that would help it find out who owns what rental properties throughout Lima.
In theory, the two initiatives would move forward concurrently throughout 2021. While the housing task force — comprised of stakeholders from varying viewpoints — examined how to update the city’s stock of housing, the database would also be created to update the information available on renting property owners.
Currently, such info can be found by digging through multiple public databases, but Thompson said the new registry system would simplify the task by requiring that landlords directly provide contact info, or contact info for a nearby representative, in order to rent out properties.
Registering with the city would also require a small fee. Thompson recommended $25 per year per property owner.
“I am not looking to make this a punitive program for anyone. It’s not our intent. It’s not our intent at all. We just want our neighborhoods to hold their property values and not have everyone that drives through Lima say what a … hole it is,” Councilor Peggy Ehora said. “We got to start somewhere. I just want to start a registry to know who (subpar landlords) are.”
As for the housing task -force, or commission, Councilor Derry Glenn pushed for those serving on that board to receive a stipend with the aim to bring in professional stakeholders dedicated to solving the issue. Without such dedication, the concern is that any solutions floated by the board won’t be comprehensive or thorough enough to really consider what is needed to effectively move the needle on housing.
Councilors also spent some time Monday night discussing land contracts, also sometimes known as rent-to-own agreements, to see where they fit within the larger housing picture. Thompson said she’s had experience with a number of landlords who rely on such financing situations to effectively rent out homes, but they often fail to protect tenants in the same way that a more standard lease might.
Councilor Todd Gordon voiced some apprehensions about tackling such contracts without knowing more details. If someone signs a land contract, the responsibility to maintain the house often falls on the person buying the property, and the different legal structure changes what can be done by the city.
Because of the added complications, Councilor Tony Wilkerson recommended that council focus first on the city’s largest housing issue – rental properties.
“We should do the rental properties first, and then if we want to look at land contracts, we can do that at a later time,” Wilkerson said.
Such caution around finding a solution was also reflected by those outside of the committee. A number of developers and housing professionals also sat in the call to provide input.
”What is happening here, and it’s happened in the last two times it has come up, the discourse gets reduced to ‘us versus them,” Developer Mike Blass said. “We’re missing a whole lot of problems and pieces of the puzzle. I think it’s a great idea for stakeholders to meet and talk about housing in general. This is a huge issue. It is a complex issue and if it is done properly, it is going to take some time.”
Councilors all agreed that they don’t want to take the problem lightly. Low-quality housing stock has hampered the city’s growth for decades, and if the goal is real change, they’re going to have a lot of work ahead of them.
“As I have learned, this is not something we’re going to tackle overnight,” Thompson said.
The committee plans to meet in another two weeks to review the task force’s structure after getting input from the city’s administration.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.