Licensing & Inspection Program Could Help Turn a TIF Blueprint into Reality


The Daily Chronicle lays out today the arguments for and against licensing and inspection of rental properties.

There are four proposed laws before the council, but it’s the issue of licensing that has garnered the most attention and debate from aldermen, city officials, and landlords. City Manager Mark Biernacki has previously described it as being the linchpin of all the city’s efforts to improve the quality of its housing stock.

[Local realtor and landlord Dan] McClure said he believes a licensing program could be abused by the government in the future. Although he does not mind firefighters coming through his various properties to inspect them, McClure disagrees with the notion that expanding inspections would help.

“It just seems like a tremendous invasion of privacy of the tenant to me,” McClure said. “I don’t understand why they want to get involved with this.”

Good point, Mr. McClure. However, no interviews of tenants appeared in the article, so we’ll never know what they think.

But let’s move on to asking why city staff want licensing and inspection so badly that they’ve hired people to manage a licensing programs that didn’t exist and to do an end run around its own Housing Task Force.

You could argue that the main motivator is concern for tenants of very modest means and few options, but then I’d have to ask why none (save for a few students) were included as members of the Safe/Quality Housing Task Force.

You might also suspect that the plan represents a new revenue stream, and you probably wouldn’t be wrong- wrong.

But here’s an alternative theory: that the main point of pushing licensing and inspection so hard for so long is because a grand plan is involved, and that plan is the 2008 Amendment to the Central Redevelopment Area Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District.

All referenced PDF page numbers in this post come from the TIF plan linked just above.

Let’s start with Mr. Meyers. The first interviewee quoted in today’s DC article, Myron Meyers, is a prominent member of the Ellwood Historic Neighborhood group. EHN is made up of members of what used to be known as the North 5th Ward neighborhood, which was added to the Central Area TIF district when the amendment was approved.

City manager Mark Biernacki has been cultivating the EHN group for some time by attending its meetings and expending city resources on it, including an FY2012 budget allowance of $100,000 in TIF money for use by this group.

So Mr. Meyers’ participation in an interview for the DC story is quite the coincidence, yes indeedy.

Now about the plan: Here is the number one stated objective of the 2008 Amended TIF (PDF p. 25) involving Mr. Meyers’ neighborhood:

Reduce or eliminate those conditions that qualify the Redevelopment Project Area as eligible for tax increment financing by carrying out the Redevelopment Plan including property assembly, demolition of existing buildings, construction of new buildings, and site improvements.

Additionally, the land-use section noted that “it is the intent of this Plan to encourage gradual conversion of structures from multi-unit, two-unit or rooming house use back to their original single-family use or to live-work arrangements or other mixed uses consistent with an ‘arts district’ concept” (PDF p. 19).

The budget for land acquisition, demolition and site prep is $5,000,000 (PDF p. 29). There is also a property rehab/remodeling budget of $11,000,000.

Execution of the redevelopment plans clearly means the potential for displacing tenants from their homes. Because of this possibility, the City of DeKalb was required to prepare a Housing Impact Study (PDF p. 23) to ensure that the city has enough rental housing stock to absorb the displaced persons.

The housing study in turn spawned a rather extraordinary document called “Attachment One, Residential Units That May Be Removed” (PDF p. 93), which targets 93 properties and 328 units, AKA people’s homes. I’ve uploaded photos of this attachment for your convenience in case you’d like to quickly check and see if your home or rental property is on the list.

Click on the images for larger versions.

If you had up to 90-some properties to either spruce up or demolish to prepare for, say, riverfront condos and high-end boutiques, wouldn’t you be looking for some tools to git ‘er done? And couldn’t a strict, mandated licensing and inspection program be wielded not only as a linchpin but as a sledgehammer for this purpose?

Most importantly — and no matter where the dots actually connect — do you trust city government to wield the hammer fairly and responsibly?