City officials discuss problems with substandard housing

Published 5:45 pm Thursday, January 28, 2016

Addressing the issue of substandard housing in Washington is one of the challenges city officials face as they begin developing upcoming budgets, according to one of those officials.

During his remarks to the City Council earlier this week, John Rodman, the city’s director of community and cultural resources, his department’s accomplishments in recent months and “challenges” in future budgets. The council heard presentations from several department heads and others as part of its strategic planning session as it begins working on the 2016-2017 fiscal year budget.

“Some of the challenges that we have for that department is we have to ease the burden of substandard housing. That’s going to cost the city something. The community block grants (awarded by the state) for housing, they’re no longer issued. They’re working on infrastructure like water and sewer,” Rodman told the council. “It becomes the city’s responsibility to (address) substandard housing.”

Rodman said there are about 45 to 50 houses on the city’s list of substandard houses “that we need to take care of.”

“I know it’s a concern of some of the council members — that substandard housing,” Rodman said.

In recent years, the city used community development block grants to repair and renovate substandard houses so they met existing standards for residential dwellings. Much of that work occurred in an area of West Seventh Street between Market and Respess streets and an area along West Sixth Street from Bridge Street to Van Norden Street. Similar projects included rehabilitating houses along a section of North Market Street.

Rodman also told the council that although the number of permits (including permits for new residences) issued by his department declined from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015, the number of permits for new commercial buildings increased from eight in FY 2014 to 18 in FY 2015. He also noted that overall revenue generated from issuing all inspection permits increased from $71,134 in FY 2014 to $90,102 in FY 2015, with revenue from issuing building-related permits rising from $23,414 to $43,058 during the same period.

Rodman attributed the increase in fee-generated revenues despite the downturn in permits issued to the higher “values” of recent and ongoing commercial construction in the city. He cited the recent completion of the new Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep dealership on the western side of the city as a factor in that increase in revenue.

Rodman also said the city faces the issue of providing fuel for boats that use the city docks. A forerunner to the city’s Waterfront Docks Advisory Committee supported having a fueling station at the docks.

The issue surfaced during an orientation meeting involving new council member Virginia Finnerty and several city department heads last month. At that meeting, Finnerty questioned Rodman about the matter.

“We’re about 23 miles off the Intracoastal Waterway. If somebody who wants to come visit us … and they get down here and don’t have the availability (of fuel), that limits how many boats come down. It’s something that not only affects us but some of the other marinas around also,” Rodman said at that meeting.

“Why hasn’t it happened?” Finnerty asked about a fueling station on the city’s waterfront.

“It hasn’t happened because it’s quite expensive. It’s quite expensive to do that. There are a lot of environmental regulations that go along with it. Chief (Robbie) Rose can tell there are a lot of other issues, fire issues, that go along with fuel at the docks. So, there’s a lot of issues you have to look out for,” Rodman said last month.










About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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