Wendell commissioner sticks with fight to improve housing

jwhitfield@newsobserver.comAugust 19, 2013 

— When Christie Adams first decided to run for election to a seat on the Wendell board of commissioners in 2009, she was concerned about the amount of rental housing in the town. Just across one street from her corner lot, an apartment complex was proposed for construction. Across the other street sat a dilapidated mobile home park.

Now, four months before the end of her four-year term on the board of commissioners, Adams, who is not running for re-election, continues to hammer away at the issue.

At a recent board meeting, Adams used her time for comments to highlight the town’s inability to enforce its own safety regulations.

She singled out the mobile home park across from her house to highlight the lack of enforcement.

Two of the properties – 368 and 370 Fourth St. – were deemed deteriorated, according to Town Manager Teresa Piner. One burned in a fire in 2011. Adams said that in the two years since the fire no one had been taking care of the property.

“New tenants are moving in,” Adams said. “There’s no meter, no electrical meter. It has no power. People are just dropping their stuff off, moseying on in. Until citizens call in and report, we do not have a system of checks and balances. We rely on taxpayers to be the system of checks and balances.”

Piner said the properties have been repaired and have passed inspections. One had the power restored and the other was expected to have its power restored later in the week.

But in an interview last Wednesday, Adams said the town has been lax in keeping up with problem properties.

“We are essentially turning a blind eye,” she said. “To think I have to repeatedly call and report these things, that doesn’t sit right with me. It makes me want to say, ‘Can I have my taxes back? Can that be my salary for doing an extra job?’ ” Piner said changes to the town’s minimum housing standards have given town staff more tools to deal with derelict properties. Key among those changes is a reduction in the threshold inspectors use to determine if a property is uninhabitable.

Adams, though, says there is still more that can be done.

“We need a program that inventories these properties but doesn’t create a stigma or a label that bullies these property owners and creates a way the town can keep up with their progress” toward making improvements, Adams said.

In her remarks at last week’s town board meeting, Adams said the mobile home park is just one instance in which the town has been unable to protect its residents and its public property.

“I walked past this rental property (on South Main Street) every day almost for three months,” she said. “And every day, I saw cars parked on the sidewalk or in the yard – parked in such a way where they didn’t use the driveway. They used the curb and the sidewalk. The same curb and sidewalk is damaged. Well, all you taxpayers feel good because that sidewalk has since been repaired. Your tax dollars repaired it.” She also cited problems with damaged sidewalks on Wendell Boulevard and in front of homes and businesses.

Though her term on the board is nearing an end, Adams said she plans to continue pushing for stronger regulations. But she is realistic.

“I am absolutely going to bring it up again and they (town commissioners) are going to have an opportunity to debate it. In all honesty, I’m going to keep my expectations realistic and not expect that we come out of this with an ordinance.”

Whitfield: 919-829-4823

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