Housing initiative questioned

The Board of Aldermen addressed challenges faced by the Livable City Initiative Thursday night.
The Board of Aldermen addressed challenges faced by the Livable City Initiative Thursday night. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Leaders of the Livable City Initiative — an agency that ensures safe housing for New Haven residents — met with aldermen Thursday night to discuss possible revisions for the LCI’s Residential Rental Licensing Program.

Although the New Haven agency met with the Board of Aldermen last April to address issues with the licensing program, existing concerns — including housing code violations and the lack of specific guidelines regarding exemption applications — fueled the demand for a second meeting, which took place Thursday. At Thursday’s meeting of the board’s legislation committee, aldermen met with LCI officials to consider changes to its licensing program for rental properties.

Enacted in August 2005, the licensing program was designed by the Livable City Initiative to ensure that renters’ and landlords’ licensed property satisfied minimum state housing code standards.

“People have brought in issues of buildings in really bad shape — safety hazards, roofs buckling,” Ward 1 alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12 said.

The presence of dilapidated housing units raised questions regarding the LCI’s method of prioritizing inspections. The initiative, according to Executive Director Erik Johnson, primarily performs inspections based on a complaint system, and priority is given to the earliest scheduled complaints.

“Because housing code violations are so complaint-driven, typically we just address the complaints,” Johnson said.

One hundred percent of Class A complaints — which include life-threatening hazards such as lack of heating — are addressed, according to LCI officials. Class B and C complaints, which include such issues as garbage buildups and leaky faucets, will see longer response times.

“[Livable City Initiative] needs to step up [its] game and inspect these things on a regular basis — not just on complaints,” Ward 24 alderman Evette Hamilton said. “This is necessary for the quality of life for the residents.”

Eidelson questioned the availability of previous inspection records, asking LCI officials if she could find the latest inspection date for a city property online. After LCI officials responded no, they said they would work to make such information accessible online.

The board further addressed the need to clarify the process for exempting property owners from requiring a residential rental license. New Haven residents who can apply for exemption from the program, such as property owners of single-family housing units, must send in photo identification, as well as two items listing their mailing address. A standard for acceptable mail will be created, and the initative will create a kiosk in their main office to instruct residents how to file exemptions and renew licenses.

The Livable City Initiative will send renewal notices to property owners who belong to the rental licensing program. In addition, the agency will increase public access of the program through the internet and will create an online program that residents can use to renew their licenses.

Johnson also admits that the licensing program must improve its system of tracking compliance.

“It’s not that we don’t address issues — it’s that we don’t track them and cannot be sure of our effectiveness,” Johnson said.

So far, Johnson said 54 percent of owners have complied with licensing program regulations after housing violations were noted, a figure he calls “a strong story of compliance.”

Livable City Initiative will begin its next inspection cycle in January 2013.

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