Wary City Council grants rental unit

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton City Manager Eric Waara talks during a meeting of the Houghton City Council Wednesday. The Rental Housing Board approved a rental license for a home at 309 Calverley Ave.

HOUGHTON — In a meeting following one in which a rental license application was denied for insufficient parking, the Houghton Rental Housing Board approved an amended version of the application Wednesday.

The board, consisting of the City Council, approved a rental license at 309 Calverley Avenue, contingent upon the addition of another paved surface for parking.

Board members voted 3-1 in favor of the decision, with Councilman Buck Foltz voting against.

Judith Budd, an owner of the house, said they lived nearby and had already put $20,000 into the home. She said they purchased the home with an eye towards their daughter living there in a few years when she becomes independent.

“We purchased it specifically because it’s a two-bedroom home,” she said. “You can’t throw 100 kids in there. We don’t ever want to throw 100 kids in there.”

Neighbors who spoke and wrote letters said they were worried about the area becoming overcrowded with rentals, and a resulting drop in quality of life and property values.

“When someone buys a home, this is a big consideration and when this is changed after the fact it’s really at the disadvantage of someone who has already invested in and made a personal commitment to the neighborhood,” Sonja Hoezee, owner of an adjacent house, wrote in a letter to the board.

City Manager Eric Waara said the city issues about seven to eight rental licenses per year. In 2014 and 2015, rental licenses were about half R-1. Of seven licenses issued in 2016, all were in R-1.

Since the city adopted the International Property Maintenance Code in 2013, he said, the city has gone from 180 properties with issues to about 30.

“Is everything perfect out there? No, not yet,” he said. “Was that a magic bullet? I don’t think anybody expected that to be a magic bullet at the time. It’s going to take time to do that.”

Foltz, whose house had been one of those cited under the code, said it was “the poorest thing that ever happened to me as a homeowner.”

“We have a severe problem here,” he said of the rentals. “I think we moved too fast. I think that we take into consideration very little and enforcement has been virtually nil up until maybe now … until we slow down and figure it out, we’re going to be killing neighborhoods.”

The city’s rental ordinance lists several standards the property must meet before the board approves a license, including whether the use is consistent with the neighborhood, the property provides sufficient parking and that arrangements for maintenance are in place.

“If a person comes to us and wants to use their property that way and meets all the conditions in our ordinances, we’re obligated to consider that and grant it if it meets the rules,” said Councilman Mike Needham.