Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

July 18, 2013

Public hearing on Minimum Housing Code inconclusive

Council moves to hold another public hearing after mixed response


Mineral Wells Index

— By CLINT FOSTER



Mineral Wells residents had the opportunity at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, to voice their concerns about a potential new minimum housing code.

Although he said he, personally, did not see the need for one, Mayor Mike Allen made an executive decision to hold another public hearing on the matter. This came after Council Member Thomas Lively made a motion to do so and the council’s vote was split, 3-3.

The proposed Minimum Housing Code, recommended by a committee, was created to address the bulk of housing in Mineral Wells, including both rental and owner-occupied properties. City Manager Lance Howerton explained that the code is designed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public by making properties meet a basic set of standards.

“What has brought this about is that we have a problem with the condition of our housing in this town,” Howerton explained. “We have an inordinately old housing stock, in some respects, that hasn’t been maintained as it should. What we want to do with this code is to address those [houses] that are aging, that need to be worked on and need to meet this minimum code before they become substandard.

That’s what this code would allow us to do; that’s what we really don’t have in place right now.”

The Minimum Housing Code program -- which is essentially a local version of the International Property Maintenance Code -- would set up a certificate of occupancy inspection program. Such a program would outline specific instances in which the city could inspect houses and make sure that they are up to code.

“We’re not going to nitpick everything to death, but just see if it’s basically in good condition and habitable,” Howerton said. “We have some houses we’re going to go into, I have no doubt, that are going to be a wreck and need to be repaired. This gives us the opportunity to get inside that house and tell that owner, be they a rental property owner or an owner-occupant, ‘Here’s what you need to do to meet basic code.’ This will get those houses upgraded, repaired and in some kind of decent condition.

“It’s not all that cosmetic. If you look at what will be inspected, it’s just basic things. Make sure the roof’s in good shape, make sure there’s paint on the outside [of the house], if window glass is in the windows instead of cardboard, things like that. [We want to make sure] the systems in the house, be they plumbing, electrical, gas, etc., are up to basic code. The idea is if this house is basically habitable, if it’s something people should be living in.”

Many citizens were in attendance to voice their concerns about the program. One resident, Randy Gover, said he was concerned about the adverse effect this code might have on elderly citizens on fixed income or families with low socioeconomic status who might not be able to afford fines and repairs if their homes were not up to code. He worried that the “little guys” of Mineral Wells might be driven out of their homes by being held to task, whereas commercial properties -- he referenced the famous, but derelict Baker Hotel -- would not be held accountable.

Howerton did his best to assuage these concerns, saying owner-occupied homes would only be inspected if the owner was selling the property or if a formal complaint was made about the house. He further explained that the committee sought to financially protect elderly homeowners on fixed income, adding that homes such as these likely would not need to be inspected until the home was sold either after the owner’s death or if they were to move into a nursing home, for example.

Mayor Mike Allen was complimentary of the Minimum Housing Code Committee.

“It takes a lot to impress me anymore, but this committee impressed me greatly with their conscientiousness, hard-work and what they did,” he said during the meeting. “I just wanted to take a minute to thank them. I thanked them already, but they were great.”

Although another public hearing was set, Howerton said he believes the new Minimum Housing Code would be the best thing for Mineral Wells in the long run.

“I think we’ve come up with a fairly good program. I think it’s a starting point,” he said. “If there are areas we have to tweak, I certainly will. But I think this will put us on the path to see our housing stock improve.

This is something that over an extended period of time, 10-20 years, we’ll see an improvement in the condition of our existing housing.

That’s what other cities have experienced.”

In other real-estate-related business:

•The council denied the request of Sheree Douglas of Arizona to waive property liens on 304 NE 14th Ave. She inherited the property from her estranged father, who owed taxes and property leans from cleanup and demolition that the city paid for. The council did, however, advise her that the cost of the liens could be included in whatever price she sells the property for.

•The council unanimously approved a request for a 10-foot variance from the City of Mineral Wells Code of Ordinances regarding residential driveways in order to expand a driveway and its approach to 34 feet in width at 3201 North Oak Ave.

Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55