Better Regulations for Better Housing
I was driving south on Poplar last weekend and I noticed that the “for sale” sign in front of the house on the northwest corner of Poplar and Walnut (5oo W. Walnut) had been replaced with a “for rent” sign. I sighed when I saw the number on the sign and realized that Home Rentals bought the property.
I have to admit, I felt pretty deflated. Of course Home Rentals bought the property. Home Rentals buys everything. I don’t need to spell out what that means. Another of Carbondale’s nicest older homes is in the hands of a company whose reputation among long time residents is…well, let’s just call it less than sterling.
I subscribe to the Arbor District email list, and I was heartened to see that the Arbor District is monitoring the situation. It really clarifies the issues to see an officer of a company with a “less than sterling” reputation enjoying a life of privilege and ease while watching the quality of Carbondale’s housing stock decline noticeably. I hope the members and board of the Arbor District will maintain their vigilance and continue their efforts to improve the quality of life in Carbondale.
I also saw the post on the Carbondaze Gazette offering the following information:
The company has looked at the growth of the medical industry in the area and believes, with suitable renovations, it would make an ideal rental for medical professionals moving to the area.
I really don’t know what to say to this. Will the renovations involve covering the brick with clay-colored vinyl siding? Is the company capable of maintaining a property in a condition that would appeal to medical professionals? Readers can draw their own conclusions.
I don’t begrudge people wealth and success when they achieve it by doing something productive and useful to society and the community. It’s a lot harder to accept it when people get rich by doing harm to people and communities. It’s tough to see bad behavior rewarded, and it’s a rebuke to those who think unregulated free markets always produce good outcomes.
Carbondale’s economy has four main pillars: education, medical services, retail, and real estate – especially residential rentals. Real estate has generated a lot of money for some people in Carbondale. Some landlords build nice properties and maintain them well. They provide a valuable service to the community.
Others build insta-slums or they buy nice properties and let them decline. They intentionally allow over-occupation, which can drive down the value of neighboring properties. They cover their properties – and huge sections of the town – with the same cheap, ugly siding. And they get rich doing it.
I like to believe that people can change for the better. Some would call it naive, and maybe it is, but I know that at least some people can stop behaving badly. If a person or company – a landlord, for example – had a bad reputation and wanted to change it, the behavior would need to change.
That would mean maintaining properties in excellent condition, making sure to obey restrictions on occupation (especially in R-1 districts), building attractive properties that enhance the community rather than detracting from it, evicting problem tenants, and generally being a good neighbor. If the behavior changes, the reputation will change.
Of course, not everyone wants to change. Some people don’t care whether what they do improves or harms people and communities. As long as they’re making money, they’re happy. That’s a shame. It’s also why we have regulatory power. Clearly our existing regulatory structure hasn’t prevented bad behavior. It may be time to look at new policies and regulations.
A strict set of design standards could prevent some of the unfortunate aesthetic outcomes. Zoning reforms could prevent the shabby urbanism that makes up most of central Carbondale. A different approach to property taxes could make slums financially unfeasible. People are sometimes suspicious of change because so much change is for the worse, but we should remember that change can be for the better.
It is the city’s responsibility to regulate in the public interest. The county may also have a role to play. But the ultimate responsibility belongs to the citizens. Local government will respond to pressure from citizens. If it doesn’t respond, local government is easy to change. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that there are elections coming up next year.
Comments are welcome.