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Final RENTS piece in place, but malware and COVID-19 may delay initiative

Final RENTS piece in place, but malware and COVID-19 may delay initiative

Neighborhood Stabilization and Enhancement District

Pictured above is a map of the Neighborhood Stabilization and Enhancement District. Residential rental properties within that district older than eight years will undergo inspections for habitability. The city is still deciding the next steps on how to implement the new inspections. 

RACINE — The City Council has approved possibly the last piece that will require council approval to get the Rental Empowerment and Neighborhood Tenant Services initiative up and running. But after the 1-2 punch of the malware attack on the city’s computer networks and the coronavirus pandemic, some parts of the initiative could be delayed.

RENTS is a multidepartmental program intended to address issues in Racine’s rental market and was approved alongside the 2020 budget in November.

On April 20, the City Council approved an agreement with Property Registration Champion, LLC to handle the registration of properties under foreclosure. One part of RENTS is to require lenders that foreclose on a property to register and maintain said property.

Under the agreement, the city would not pay Property Registration Champion; instead PRC would be compensated through the fees imposed on lenders.

Vicky Selkowe, the city’s manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, helped draft the RENTS initiative. She said she does not foresee having to bring anything further before the council “but we certainly will look for opportunities to share updates and implementation details with the Common Council later this spring.”

The agreement passed the City Council on a 12-2 vote; Jeff Coe, Mollie Jones, John Tate II, Jen Levie, Maurice Horton, Q.A. Shakoor II, Trevor Jung, Mary Land, Henry Perez, Natalia Taft, Jason Meekma and Melissa Lemke all voted in favor. Sandy Weidner and Carrie Glenn, who have voiced their concerns with the initiative since the beginning, voted in opposition.

The one-two punch

One of the pieces of the initiative is a requirement that property owners register their property with the city, including current contact information for the owner.

The deadline for registration was supposed to be June 1, but Selkowe said that due to the malware attack that hit the city’s computer networks on Jan. 31, that part of the initiative may be delayed.

“We should know next week whether or not we’re going to be able to proceed with property registration in May in time for the June 1st deadline,” Selkowe said in an email.

Another piece of the initiative is targeted inspections of all rental properties within a designated area. The council approved the designated area, which circles Downtown Racine like a misshapen “C”, in early March. But due to the social distancing mandate in Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order, Selkowe said it’s unclear when the city can undertake said inspections.

“Due to the public health crisis, the proactive RENTS inspections will be delayed until it is safe for our code enforcement teams to be entering into apartments,” Selkowe said.

The initiative also includes:

  • Updating chronic nuisance codes to include code violations. Currently, nuisance ordinances focus on public safety issues.
  • Establishing an escrow account for when landlords need to make repairs to bring their property up to code. Tenants would pay their rent into the account and the landlord would receive those funds once the repairs are completed.
  • Stronger enforcement of ordinances barring retaliation against tenants for reporting code violations.

Selkowe said the latter three parts of the initiative are in effect.

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Christina Lieffring covers the City of Racine and the City of Burlington and is a not-bad photographer. In her spare time she tries to keep her plants and guinea pigs alive and happy.

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