Marion City Council approves minimum housing standards

After several months of consideration and discussion, the city of Marion now has minimum standards for housing.

On Tuesday, the Marion City Council unanimously approved the proposed minimum housing standards ordinance which was first presented to them in October of last year. The rules adopted Tuesday are the same as those first presented to council.

“This ordinance is designed to be a basic first step,” said Mayor Steve Little. “It is not a radical redesigning.”

In October, the City Council first heard a presentation from Planning and Development Director Heather Cotton and Police Chief Allen Lawrence about the need for minimum housing standards in Marion. City officials have heard from East Marion residents who report about rundown homes in their neighborhoods where illegal drugs and other criminal activity have occurred. People in other parts of Marion have reported about homes in their vicinity that lack adequate plumbing and heating and unsafe electrical systems. There are homes infested with rodents and they carry disease.

To help combat this problem, the city staff proposed in October that minimum standards be adopted with rules about structural conditions, safe and sanitary maintenance, plumbing systems, heating systems, electrical wiring, control of insects and rodents and disposal of garbage. The city’s building inspector would determine if a dwelling is unsafe and represents a threat to life and property if it doesn’t meet the conditions outlined in the ordinance.

City officials said previously they are trying to improve housing conditions in Marion and not make life even more difficult for low-income people. They said previously this ordinance will be complaint driven and would not create a housing department for Marion. And a certificate of occupancy would not be required because of a tenant change.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Little said, “This is not something owners of rental properties should fear.”

Little added he’s embarrassed to say that Marion didn’t already have something like this.

“I think it’s great we’ve finally come to realization we need to help people,” said Councilman Don Ramsey.

Ramsey added 27 percent of the county’s residents live in substandard housing and it’s not their fault.

“We’re going forward,” said Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin. “I’m embarrassed we didn’t have this before but we woke up and did what was right.”

City Manager Bob Boyette said the city has received tremendous help from both the West Marion Community Forum and the Marion East Community Forum in identifying housing problems and working on the standards. But these problems exist throughout Marion and McDowell County.

Around 10 people were in the audience for Tuesday’s meeting and no one spoke against the minimum housing standards. The council’s action to approve it resulted in applause from the audience.

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