By CHRIS AGEE
City Manager Lance Howerton Wednesday addressed dozens of local property owners to discuss a proposed minimum housing code for Mineral Wells residences.
Howerton said he first presented a copy of the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code – which would serve as the basis for the local code – to city council members in November. He explained Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce staff recommended a public forum prior to next Tuesday's council meeting, which will include this issue as an agenda item.
"We don't even know if a majority of city council wants to take this on," he said, inviting those with an opinion on the matter to attend the upcoming meeting and voice their support or concerns.
To begin the forum, Howerton presented a slide show depicting a "representative sample" of dilapidated structures throughout the city. "Our housing stock is significantly older than you will find in many other communities," he said, citing a dearth of new development over recent decades and the excess housing that resulted after Fort Wolters closed as contributing factors.
He said the proliferation of such properties can have negative results beyond neighborhood blight. With a lower property tax base, Howerton explained, the city is forced to levy higher tax rates to make up the difference.
Residents are living in substandard conditions, he added, and the presence of such structures contributes to an overall negative community image.
Through implementation of a minimum housing code, Howerton said Mineral Wells will experience a beautified appearance, stabilized neighborhoods, and improved living conditions. Currently, he noted, the city can only address these issues through building codes for new construction and a dangerous buildings and structures code that applies to buildings that are often condemned and demolished at taxpayer expense.
"We're addressing new construction; we're addressing derelict structures," Howerton said. "We don't have anything in the middle."
He said Building Official Robert Turk and city staff looked at codes from other regional cities and recognized most enforcement is geared toward rental properties. The city does not want to target those in owner-occupied residences who cannot afford to make repairs, he explained.