Early this week I had mentioned the public meetings that the staff was holding with members of the Planning Commission, City Council, and the Board of Zoning Appeals to talk about ways to adapt our Zoning Code to keep City neighborhoods strong. I noted that one of the ways being discussed was rental property licensing. That prompted a couple of landlords to send me their concerns with what they considered unnecessary City intervention in the affairs of their business. In case others have similar concerns I wanted to share my reply so that everyone can have the benefit of what is and is not being discussed.
Based on the landlord’s comments I think we share a concern for Kent neighborhoods and like them we are also concerned about Kent’s future. If there’s any good news these days it would seem to be that Kent is experiencing the same sort of neighborhood stress that many university cities have wrestled with so we’re not alone in our challenges and we think there are some very good examples of best practices learned from those other cities that are out ahead of us and we’re anxious to tap into those resources.
That’s actually the origin of the rental license discussion. We did our homework, we researched, the staff traveled to other cities, we brought other city representatives to Kent and we’ve partnered with the University to look at how we can work together to apply some of the best practices here in Kent. It is my opinion that there is no magic bullet that will solve all of our neighborhood stress issues; rather I think it is all about developing a comprehensive community based solution that takes the best of what’s out there and adapts it to fit Kent’s needs. (That’s what the Neighborhood Enrichment Initiative is all about.)
One of those best practices turned out to be rental licensing. Our Community Development Director, Gary Locke, could give greater insight into how it’s been used elsewhere with success but based on that success we felt an obligation to bring it up for discussion here in Kent. Again, I’m not suggesting it is a magic elixir for neighborhood blight but we felt it was our job to share the findings of our research with the community at large for a broader discussion on the merits and demerits for such a program. That’s what Gary led in Tuesday’s meeting – a pro’s and con’s sort of discussion.
At this point it is way too premature to even guess at what a potential rental license fee may be but the intention all along from the staff’s perspective has been for it to be a nominal fee that would merely cover the costs of the program. Our interest in the rental license is to provide a faster, more efficient, and more effective way to gain compliance in property maintenance rather than trying to drag property owners through an expensive court process. Other cities have successfully used the license process to improve compliance and that’s what caught our interest.
I would emphasize that this program has nothing to do with generating fees for the City budget. As a matter of fact, Gary even talked about recommending setting aside whatever nominal amounts were generated from the license fees to create a housing maintenance loan fund that would be available for property owners to perhaps borrow from. While I admit that the City has revenue challenges, this is not a program that is being proposed for that reason and if this issue makes it’s way to Council Chambers for their consideration we would continue to support setting up the kind of program that Gary suggested.
We even talked about the possibility of providing fee rebates to rental properties that consistently maintain good standing with City maintenance standards. Again, these are all just speculative ideas at this point based on what other cities have done so I don’t want to give the impression that anything has been decided, but likewise given your comments I thought I should offer some reply.
I would close by noting that we’ve been very methodical, and quite frankly intentionally slow in our efforts to bring these issues before Council because we know that there’s a wide range of opinions on the matter and we really want to encourage thoughtful discussion and deliberation rather than the sort of divisive debate these matters can devolve into it. We’ll continue to be slow but we think we owe it to our community to bring fresh ideas to the table that have a track record of success in communities much like ours. The community may not decide to implement any of them, but with so much at stake, the staff and I feel that our job is to make sure the Kent community has the benefit of hearing ideas that have worked, as together we try to make sure Kent remains the kind of place that people are proud to call home.