As city-elected officials move forward on La Marque’s blight reduction plan, the focus likely will be on rental properties and ordinances cracking down on slum landlords.
In a city council meeting this week, Mayor pro tem Keith Bell proposed shifting some of city’s policy attention in a longtime blight reduction program toward developing ordinances concerning rental properties, which make up about 70 percent of the housing inventory, and landlords, he said.
The discussion was raised during an annual report on the city’s five-year plan to address blight, particularly in historic La Marque, east of Interstate 45.
As part of the city’s blight reduction plan, officials have expanded beautification programs with free house paint supplies and demolished nearly 100 unsafe structures in the past three years, City Manager Carol Buttler said.
Bell did not propose a specific ordinance Monday, but asked to be involved in meetings with city staff about housing to research and eventually propose ordinances for rental properties.
Other council members, specifically Councilwoman Casey McAuliffe and Mayor Bobby Hocking, were supportive of turning the focus in the plan toward landlords and raising the standards of rental properties. Renters tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to be victims of crime, Bell said.
“We have a crime problem, not a police problem, but a crime problem that usually accompanies impoverished areas,” Bell said.
“I think we need to look hard at some sort of renter’s ordinance that we might be able to gather information about the property owners and communicate to them the needs we have in this city to make sure that those tenants they’re leasing to are tenants that will enhance our city and not detract from our city.”
The ordinances could look at holding landlords more accountable for selecting tenants who are “contributors to the city,” but also ensure landlords are keeping properties in respectable condition and not allowing them to become dilapidated, Bell said.
“We need to start to use our enforcement tools and power of ordinance to decide who we want to be members of our city, not with respect to race, color, creed, gender, age or sexual preference or religious affiliation,” Bell said.
Texas City’s public housing authority oversees La Marque’s public housing. He noted that he had no complaints with the housing authority or how it’s doing its job. But Bell directed the city manager to have a meeting with public housing authority officials about inspections on properties, Bell said. Bell hoped to attend the meeting, too, he said.
“We need to let them know in no uncertain terms that we expect their Section 8 inspectors to do a service for our city that will ensure that those folks that are on our Section 8 program are folks that again are contributors to our city and not detractors from our city,” Bell said.
City staffers have been working on potential ordinances to bring before the city council that would more aggressively police landlords with inspections and hold them accountable for things that happen on their property, Buttler said.
Bell grew up in public housing in Galveston and said he learned quite a bit from the experience. There are good people who rent properties and good people in public housing and the measures would be intended to promote and make living situations better for them while putting pressure on bad actors, Bell said.
Those could be addressed, possibly, with increased inspections of rental units and properties, he said.
“Criminals do not want you in their homes, they don’t want you looking around or inspecting things or moving around the properties they own or lease,” Bell said.
“The more opportunities we get for folks to come in and take a look at those places that are going to be used by folks leasing properties, the more we might be able to have a guarantee that the folks leasing the properties are people that have every intention of doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing.”
McAuliffe agreed with the focus of cracking down on slum landlords, she said. And also proposed that the city might look at ordinances to address the issue of having so many out-of-town or out-of-state landlords, which is a problem in La Marque, she said.
“More often than not, if you trace back what is the real source, it is who is owning the properties and what is their attitude toward their renters,” McAuliffe said.
Bell wanted to see workable proposals for rental-related ordinances come before the council within the next year, he said.