Brandon optimistic about housing-repair bill

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 05:23 PM

One of High Point’s top legislative priorities is moving forward in the N.C. General Assembly.
State Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat, said he expects the first committee hearing on House Bill 227 this week. The measure, which he co-sponsored, would give High Point and other local governments new authority to deal with decaying housing and abandoned buildings.
Under the bill, the city would be able to take property owners to court if they failed to respond to code enforcement efforts. The city could ask a judge to transfer the property to a receiver, such as a professional rehabilitation company, which could bring it up to code and then offer it for sale.
Brandon tried to introduce similar legislation in previous sessions, but the idea ran into opposition. This time, he said he’s secured support from groups that might have objected to the idea on property-rights grounds.
Real estate interests and conservative organizations like the Civitas Institute and Americans for Prosperity have voiced support, he said, along with fellow legislators.
“I’ve gotten every group that would have a concern to support it,” he said. “We put in numerous safeguards for the property-rights people. I think we can move forward with it at this point.”
The measure was originally designed to apply only to High Point and Greensboro, but Brandon said it is proceeding as a statewide bill.
“In fact, it was one of the reasons why it didn’t get passed last year, because so many people wanted to get on the bill,” he said. “Most people have this problem in their communities and nobody really wants to live with it.”
Former City Attorney Fred Baggett, who advises High Point on state legislative matters, said the bill would have to apply statewide in order to fulfill state constitutional requirements.
The city is trying to find a new way to deal with a burgeoning caseload of decrepit houses and buildings where property owners won’t fund repairs or demolition costs. Proponents of the bill like Mayor Bernita Sims argue that it would give the city a new tool to deal with housing cases besides demolition, which is expensive.
“Of course, when we did the citizen survey, the city doing something to address the vacant and boarded-up housing in our community was very high on the list,” said Sims. “We want to get as many tools in the toolbox as we can get to address that issue, and I don’t think tearing down housing is probably the best way for us to go.”
Officials said there are some possible developers and investors in the Triad who could fit the role of a receiver and make a profit from the sale of a property after they rehabilitate it.
Brandon said he will work to secure the same type of widespread support for the bill in the Senate that he hopes he has in the House.
“We have to look at the property rights of the homeowners that are doing the right things, whose property values go down because of people who don’t do the right thing,” he said.