“No one wants unsafe housing,” asserts Nick Scarci, Government Affairs Director of the Greensboro Regional REALTORS® Association (GRRA), “but city code must be reasonably fair to landlords.” This sums up the stance of the local REALTORS® in a legislative whirlwind that began in late September, when a newspaper article revealed that the City Council was considering three significant additions to the municipality’s existing code. The alterations were well-intentioned, proposed in response to a devastating apartment fire in the spring, but their full implications for property owners were not well considered. Although updated code eventually passed, its provisions were informed and tempered by a thorough analysis that the GRRA commissioned through the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative (LUI) program.
Scarci, who was aware of the LUI program but had never had to use it, got hold of the bill with just enough time to submit it for review and have the proposed legislation and code analyzed.
The first new provision would allow city inspectors to inspect an entire apartment building based on issues found in one unit; the second would create a ‘worst offenders’ list citing the top 10% of properties with the most code violations and police incidents within the city; and the third would allow for the designation of a square-mile ‘blighted area,’ within which the city could inspect every property. It was this last proposal that the REALTORS® found especially troubling, in that the homes of responsible owners would be caught in such ‘blighted areas,’ devaluing and stigmatizing their property.
Says Scarci, “The Land Use Initiative review is an excellent tool for someone like me, who does not have a strong legal background to grapple with potentially complex issues. Consultants turned the analysis around even faster than we expected; I received a call from them the day after I submitted our documents. It was timely and constructive.”
The REALTORS® received the legal analysis about a week prior to the vote by the City Council, reports Scarci, and he was able to communicate the feedback to key council members through back channels. Monitoring the proposals online, he could see that, prior to the vote, the language was updated a number of times for the better, and the final provision was actually struck entirely. “It was very apparent that the Council hadn’t understood the full significance of the bill they were considering,” he says, acknowledging that the legislators were under pressure to take strong political action in the aftermath of the apartment fire, and felt obligated to take extreme measures into consideration.
Although the updated proposal passed, the concerns raised by GRRA convinced the city to meet soon after with a delegation of Greensboro REALTORS®, their Association Executive, Mike Barr, and their Government Affairs Chair, Wayne Young, together with representatives from the Greensboro Landlord Association, to revisit the newly adopted code provisions. Staff from North Carolina REALTORS®, especially Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Cady Thomas, also provided valuable input regarding relevant state code, notes Scarci, adding, “We’re very fortunate in having a diverse and talented membership and leadership providing insightful feedback on the new code. Between their expertise and the analysis provided by the REALTOR® Party, I think that in the future, the city will see us as a valuable resource when it’s looking to make rational updates to the existing code.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Greensboro, North Carolina are working to craft local zoning code that is both safe and fair, contact Government Affairs Director Nick Scarci at 336-808-4234.