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Lansing City Council, Schor administration seek to step up enforcement of housing code

Flickr - MI SHPO

Lansing City Council members are asking administrators to step up housing code enforcement to ensure homes are safe for residents.

Councilmembers convened a special Committee of the Whole meeting this week to discuss the state of red-tagging in the city. That’s after all families in a 29-unit South Lansing apartment building were forced out due to unsafe conditions.

The group heard several comments from members of the public who were critical of the city's track record on keeping its housing stock up to code.

Thomas Woods, a reverend and member of Lansing’s Human Relations & Community Services Advisory Board, said the city needs to have a unified plan to keep residents safe.

“I want people to know that when they come here, that Lansing takes care of its own," Woods said. "That means we're going to be able to provide decent, clean, affordable housing, but we need to have proper oversight. Where did we lose that? What happened?”

Officials have said landlords need to be held accountable for failing to keep their properties safe for residents.

But Lansing City Council President Carol Wood also said the city needs to do more to ensure residents have a safe place to live.

“The idea that we have people that are living with cockroaches, bedbugs, rats, ceilings that are falling in on them, plumbing that they cannot use, is unacceptable,” Wood said.

Council members pressed administrators on housing inspection and code enforcement policies, using a list of 23 questions to guide the discussion.

Some voiced a desire for the city to step into rental and correct the housing issues itself, but city attorney Jim Smiertka said that would require permission to enter private property.

Smiertka added one method of forcing property owners to address code violations has been taking them to court. The city is suing Simtob Management, the company that owns the red-tagged Holmes Apartments building, in an attempt to get them to perform repairs as soon as possible. Some of the displaced residents were shifted to other Simtob properties, while the city has had to foot the bill for some being housed at hotels.

Barbara Kimmel, interim director of economic development and planning, said she wants to see Lansing develop a strategy for preventing housing that's in poor condition from being sold. That would include demolishing them if they can't be salvaged.

“We have some extremely blighted homes that are getting auctioned to people,” Kimmel said. “And they're either staying red-tagged because they are beyond repair, or they're being minimally rehabilitated, and people are being allowed to live there and it's not creating a good situation.”

Mayor Andy Schor says his administration is conducting a thorough review of the code compliance office to make sure policies are being adequately enforced.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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