Denison is delaying the start of its new rental inspection program amid an ongoing hiring freezes and financial uncertainties during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.
The program, which offers voluntary inspections of rental units was slated to start on May 1, but city officials announced that the launch has been delayed for the foreseeable future.
“We are disappointed to share the need to delay the kick-off of the program,” Denison Code Compliance Manager Robert Lay said. “We were excited to see how the program would positively impact housing and play a part in the revitalization of Denison neighborhoods.”
“We look forward to getting the rental registration and inspection program off the ground in the future.”
The rental inspection program was initially proposed in mid 2019 as a way of ensuring and improving the city’s housing stock. The proposal was included as a discussion item during the city’s annual budget retreat over the summer.
The initial version that was discussed by the council would have included mandatory inspections for all of the city’s rental units. However, this received significant push back from the residents and landlords.
Following this, a task force was formed by the city in the fall on 2019 to discuss alternatives.
“The whole point behind all this is to ensure we have quality housing from everyone regardless of if it is a super expensive rental property or on the lesser side of rental properties.”
The meetings with the task force resulted in a modified version of the original plan which allowed property owners to opt in, in exchange for incentives including waived permit fees. The version also included a VIP tier which would allow the owner to claim this title and use it in marketing along with having the property listed on a city listing.
This version was approved earlier this spring, but the shutdown of many businesses and most city facilities put a delay on the project.
As a part of the program, the code compliance planned to increase its staffing by one officer, bringing it to a total of four officers who could conduct inspections and other duties.
However, the slowdown has led city leaders to forecast a shoftfall on city funding in utilities and sales tax, among other revenue streams. As a short-term solution, the city has put in place hiring freezes for open positions.
“We are unable to fill that position until we have a better understanding financially where we are at,” Lay said.
Even without the financial concerns, Lay said the city would not feel comfortable sending inspectors into residential homes during the current health crisis. Similarly, the department has slowed down many of its non-essential code enforcement duties, Lay said.
’We are not going to roll it out until we know we are in a good spot to ensure that we are fully able to deliver that program to tenants, property owners and landlords,“ Lay said.
Lay said the city does not have a time frame for the roll out of the program, but he does not foresee it happening in the current fiscal year.
While the program has yet to launch, Lay said that it has received a warm welcome from some property owners, who have already tentatively agreed to participate once the program officially is under way.
“Being it is a voluntary program, it made a lot of the landlords and property owners happier about it,” he said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.