During a recent retreat Mount Airy officials voiced support for getting tough with local property owners who let their buildings fall into disrepair.
We support this move, even though there is the potential for such action to be costly to the city.
The issue is really twofold. First, when people think of enforcing a minimum housing standard, oftentimes the thought that comes to mind is aesthetics. In a city such as Mount Airy, that relies increasingly on tourism, it’s hard to stomach seeing dilapidated buildings ready to fall over. It probably hurts economic development efforts to a small degree as well.
Second, and the bigger issue, is safety. Safety hazards posed by those old, leaning buildings and by substandard homes where residents still live.
Just as paying for a police force or for fire protection, perhaps a more aggressive approach to such properties is simply the cost of doing business as a local government.
Steve May, a former police officer who deals with housing-related complaints for the city, told the commissioners oftentimes a property owner will cooperate when he contacts them regarding building or property violations. We agree that a friendly voluntary approach should be used at first.
However, if that fails to move a property owner toward taking care of the issue, then the city should take action, even if that means footing the bill for clean-up and then trying to collect from the property owner. Sometimes the city may be able to collect all of the cost, other times not.
But we agree with the commissioners who voiced support for the program. After six months, or perhaps a year, the cost verses the benefit of an active, aggressive enforcement program can always be revisited.