AUBURN — Auburn's housing stock was the topic of Thursday night's Auburn City Council meeting.
City staff including Senior Code Enforcement Officer Brian Hicks, Director of Planning and Economic Development Jenny Haines and Assistant Corporation Counsel Nate Garland proposed policy changes the city could implement to make housing in Auburn safer, cleaner and more sightly, as well as highlighted initiatives the city has already taken to work toward that goal.
Garland discussed the possibility of implementing a rental registry in the city. Over half of housing in the city consists of rental properties, he said.
The registry would require landlords to register each rental property they own, supply the city with emergency contact information for either themselves or a property manager and provide information on their insurance policies.
There would be a fee of $150 for each landlord to register. However, if a landlord is deemed a "compliant owner" by the city, that fee would be waived. In order to be a compliant owner, a landlord must be up-to-date on tax and water bills for each property owned, have no open cases with the city code enforcement office and allow for an exterior inspection, Garland explained. The registration would be valid for two years. The city could use this information to publish a list of compliant landlords, Garland suggested, which would help renters find suitable housing.
Garland stressed that this idea is still in the very early stages of development but noted that other New York cities such as Canandaigua, Binghamton, Jamestown, Ithaca, Schenectady and Syracuse have rental registries.
In September 2015, Cayuga County health officials made a horrific discovery — a 2 1/2-year-o…
These registries would help make housing safer for tenants living in them. According to a presentation by the Cayuga County Lead Poisoning and Prevention Task Force that also took place Thursday, since January 2010, 30 children in the county were found to have serious cases of lead poisoning. Of those 30 children, 16 of them lived in rental units within the city. Lead poisoning can have devastating and lifelong effects on children, including lowered IQ, impaired speech and hearing and decreased learning and memory function.
Garland acknowledged that the registry will not completely solve all the city's housing issues, but that it is "another tool in our municipal toolbox to better ensure the health and safety of residents in the city."
Landlord Monika Salvage applauded city officials for "taking steps" to address the housing blight in Auburn.
"I take my responsibility as a real property owner and landlord very seriously as do many other Auburn landlords," she said.
Salvage said she supports the rental registry "in principle," however, is concerned about the $150 fee for landlords. She hopes the fee will be reduced or abolished all together.
Haines did point out to Salvage that landlords in good standing will not be required to pay the fee.
Brett Tracy, the president of the Cayuga County Landlords Association, said his group would like to be involved in the process of establishing the registry and requested that a public meeting be held for tenants and landlords to provide input.
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Council members said they supported the creation of a registry and agreed that it is important for the public to be involved in developing the idea.
"This is necessary as far as I'm concerned," Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said. "How we go about it is up for discussion, but it is absolutely necessary."
They also had some concerns and aspects they want to see tweaked.
Councilor Dia Carabajal said she would like to know more about how much this would cost the city to implement.
Mayor Michael Quill said he was concerned about the longevity of the program. If the city was to implement it, he said, there would need to be a way to make it permanent.
"As you know, every two years councilors and/or the mayor are up for election and if the election goes one way, it would mean longevity for this program," he said. "But if it goes another way, it could be changed. We need to do some soul searching as a city that this is something we want to do and will continue to do this for a long, long time."
Garland highlighted how the city is taking advantage of state grant money and a law passed in 2016 that allows municipalities more power to go after banks with foreclosed properties in the city.
According to the state Department of Financial Services, there are 70 zombie properties in the city. Haines described a zombie property as "one that is in limbo between its owner who has abandoned it and the bank that is foreclosing on it."
Since the passage of this new law, the city was able to get code violations in about 20 bank-owned properties corrected through various means, including filing lawsuits.
The city has also implemented educational programs, such as the Brighter Side, to educate homeowners and banks on foreclosure prevention.
In other news
• The city will have to shut off water to portions of Genesee Street on Friday, April 27 and Monday, April 30.
From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday, water will be shut off on the south side of Genesee Street from Genesee Place to Washington Street and from Washington Street to Fort Street on the north side. On Monday, water will be out on the north side of Genesee Street from State Street to North Street from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Businesses and residents in those areas have been notified of the outages.
• The Casey Park playground build week kicks off Tuesday and volunteers are still needed, City Clerk Chuck Mason announced. To sign up, visit auburnny.gov and click on the Casey Park playground photo in the center of the homepage. Volunteers are needed from May 1 through May 6.
• The Auburn City Council will hold a special meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 5 to interview candidates for the city comptroller position. The meeting will mostly be held in executive session, meaning closed to the public, because matters leading to the employment of particular persons are not subject to open meetings law.
Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie.