An overflow crowd filled city hall to share their views with the board on proposals being considered including new standards and regulations for landlords and tenants.
“We’re all going to have to work together to solve this problem,” said Ward 3 Alderman Mark McCoy.
Numerous citizens shared concerns with the board about deteriorating conditions in their neighborhoods. They told the board of dilapidated properties not being kept up, junk and trash in yards, multiple families living in houses far too small and numerous other issues.
Resident Gloria Smith said it breaks her heart to see how the community has changed and fallen into disrepair.
“What’s happened to our wonderful old communities is a shame,” she said.
She believes landlords must be held responsible for keeping up their properties and requiring their tenants to do the same.
Wade Oaks said he knows there are good landlords in the community and rental property is needed for those who are unable to purchase a home, but the landlords who don’t care for their properties make all those who do look bad.
He said this type of substandard housing is drawing in people who lack pride in their community and don’t care about their surroundings or their impact on others.
“Bad houses draw bad people,” he said.
Alderman at Large Lisa Stevens said studies show blight breeds blight and as properties are allowed to fall into disrepair there is little incentive for those around them to be kept up.
“It is a negative, negative influence to our city,” she said.
Stevens said she understands how difficult it is for people to afford quality housing and to obtain loans to purchase homes. Booneville has a growing poverty rate and the issues surrounding that must be addressed in order to address the housing problem.
“We have to do something,” she said.
Tommy Turner, who owns several rental properties in the city, said he and, he believes, most landlords are doing their best but legal restrictions on removing tenants who damage property and fail to pay rent make it extremely difficult. He said the eviction process can take 3-4 months of legal actions and during that time the landlord has no way to force someone out.
“I don’t want people like that in my houses. We are trying,” he said.
Gary Walker, owner of 43 rental units in the city, said he is strongly in favor of licensing and registering landlords and regulating rental property. He said there are actions he and other landlords can take, such as detailed leases with strict requirements for upkeep of the property, that can make it easier to deal with problem tenants.
Walker said he believes the root of the problem is the economy. He said people are struggling to afford basic housing and it leads to issues of neglect of property.
He is particularly in favor of a landlord licensing system, an idea he proposed to the city approximately three years ago, in order to combat the issue of people renting out property while keeping it in the names of deceased family members in order to avoid paying the higher property taxes required of property used for rental purposes.
Board Attorney Daniel Tucker said leaders are looking at other successful communities for ideas and all options are on the table including regulations of housing to place requirements on both landlords and tenants to share responsibility.
Mayor Chris Lindley said city leaders are serious about improving Booneville and want to work with citizens to do so. He said they are looking at a variety of options and want residents to know they are working to make the community better and are listening to their concerns.
Numerous speakers told the board existing ordinances on upkeep and maintenance of property need to be enforced and could help address the issue of dilapidated and substandard housing.
Ward 1 Alderman Jason Michael said he believes the city must enforce its existing ordinances and said there are rules currently on the books that could solve many of the issues raised immediately.
Ward 1 Alderman Jeff Williams agreed and said he wants to see ordinances enforced equally for everyone and believes if the community comes together the city can be made better.
Lindley said 24 citations have already been issued recently for violations of rules on outside trash bins and he has instructed officials to enforce ordinances and respond to complaints.
Michael said if anyone does not receive a prompt response to a complaint they should contact an alderman or the mayor.
Tucker encouraged residents to report problems and be willing to get involved by signing affidavits on violators and pursuing the issue through the court system. As city prosecutor he said he will aggressively prosecute any violations that are brought to the courts.
Officials plan to carefully consider the issues raised Tuesday and hope to develop proposed new rules and ordinances in the near future.