Amory realtor Penny Garth explains a proposal to the board of aldermen last week to clean up blighted property, provide affordable housing and educate rental property tenants.

AMORY – During Dec. 1’s board of aldermen meeting, Amory realtor Penny Garth spoke on behalf of a group of her colleagues to advocate for the adoption of an ordinance to enforce bringing rental properties in the city up to code.

“This is not only our livelihood, but we’re also property owners and a lot of us are landlords,” she said. “The enforcement we’re going to introduce will affect ourselves.”

The three-pronged initiative she presented intends to increase property values and improve the quality of life in Amory, beginning with development guidelines.

“We feel that there is a major housing shortage in Amory,” she said. “Property values are going up because the demand is greater than the supply.”

The realtors’ group is working to attract developers to look at opportunities in Amory. Garth cited two unnamed developers as examples.

“One wants to build 44 houses on 14 acres if we can get it all worked out, and another can do a mixed-use development through the U.S. Department of Urban Development,” she said.

Garth said there’s somewhat of a setback as she learned the day of the board meeting that Amory was taken out of the opportunity zone map.

“I need to do research on why this happened. Both of those developments were based solely on opportunity zones,” she said.

Garth invited the city’s participation in investigating the reason for Amory losing that benefit.

The second of the three proposed initiatives proposed is education.

“I think that our tenants that live in subpar environments think that it’s the best they can do,” she said. “They’re living on the fringe and think that if they can’t pay by the week, they would find themselves homeless. We don’t want any of that to happen. There are programs out there for tenants to get government funding to afford nicer homes. They just have no idea where to get started, such as TVA and Section 8 [of the Housing Act of 1937].”

Moreover, Garth said landlords are afraid that enrolling their properties would burden them with excessive requirements for upkeep.

“My mother and I have been renting TVA properties for years. They’re actually harder on the tenant for upkeep than they are the landlords. If the property can’t pass a TVA inspection, it probably shouldn’t be lived in.”

Garth proposed holding neighborhood workshops at Amory’s community centers and at the Windows Center for the Arts in the future.

“We want to start with landlords and tenants and graduate our tenants into home ownership. That makes all of our neighborhoods better, because homeowners usually take better care of their properties than renters do,” she said.

Garth furthermore advocated free credit counseling by volunteer loan officers to help clients improve their credit.

“That’s the largest obstacle for anyone purchasing a house right now,” she said. “Our goal is to have developments with low- and middle-income housing for them to buy.”

Finally, the realtors’ group is identifying blighted properties in town to target for redevelopment block by block.

Amory Code Enforcement Officer Patrick Chism drew praise for his aggressive approach to improving Amory’s neighborhoods since he has been on the job.

“He’s been amazing,” Garth said.

She complained that there appears to be no incentive for landlords to follow through on ordinances. Garth’s proposed solution for closing the loopholes in the ordinance language would be to change the terminology from a rental property to a non-homesteaded property.

“We suggest that all residential properties – single or multi-family – that are not homesteaded properties be registered with the city at no charge within two years. Landlords with more than three non-homesteaded properties would have six months to register,” she said.

Garth furthermore suggested that all registered properties be subject to inspection every two years at a cost of $25 to the owner, and that citations for non-compliance be issued at the discretion of the code enforcement officer.

“We need to have consequences for non-compliance,” she said.

Mayor Brad Blalock received support for Garth’s initiative from both Chism and city attorney Sam Griffie.

He again advocated having leases for tenants renting property.

“Leases protect both the landlord and the tenant,” he said.

In other business, Amory Main Street’s new director, Rebecca Riddle, introduced herself to the board.

“I look forward to learning a lot of stuff and meeting a lot of people,” she said.

Her office hours will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.

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