April 10, 2016
By Dennis Phillips, Post-Journal
The number of available houses for rent has been dropping in the city while the cost to rent is on the rise.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Fact Finder American Community Survey three-year estimates in 2013, there has been a decrease in the number of rental houses in the city by 422, a 6.2 percent drop. In 2007, there were 6,774 rental houses in the city, dropping to 6,352 in 2013.

Patrick Morris, CODE Inc. executive director, believes the decrease in the number of rental housing, some of which had more than one apartment, is because most of them have been condemned, and have been or are in the process of being demolished. He said some of these rentals have been condemned because there is a rental housing crisis when it comes to inadequate plumbing or incomplete kitchens.

A housing unit is considered to have inadequate plumbing if it doesn’t have a toilet that flushes, a bathtub or shower or hot and cold running water. A housing unit is considered to have no kitchen if it doesn’t have a sink with a faucet, a refrigerator or a stove or a range. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t keep statistics on housing units that don’t have adequate plumbing nor kitchens.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2007 there were 53 houses in the city with inadequate plumbing. In 2013, there were 185, an increase of 132. In 2007 there were zero housing units in the city found not to have a kitchen. In 2013, there were 218 houses in the city considered not to have a kitchen.

”You can see in the census data we have a deterioration in housing,” Morris said.

He believes the deterioration in rental housing in the city is because of the low vacancy rate. He said only about 2 percent of the rental apartments in the city are unoccupied. He added this number should be around 5 percent.

”People are choosing to rent without complete units – without a kitchen, without plumbing – because there is nothing else available to them,” Morris said.

With demand high for rentals, prices are increasing too. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median monthly cost to rent an apartment in Jamestown was $503 per month in 2007 and $601 per month in 2013, an increase of almost 20 percent.

”It is not a fluke in the numbers, it’s going up over time,” Morris said.

At the same time rental housing costs have increased, the median income has decreased for city residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013 the median income for a renter was $19,521. In 2007, the median income for a renter was $20,357, a difference of $836 or a 4 percent decrease.

”There are no easy answers, but we have a crisis in the rental market,” he said.

If a renter does have a problem with inadequate plumbing or no kitchen, they are directed to contact the city development department. This is when a city code enforcement officer will inspect the rental property. If the place is found to have inadequate plumbing or no kitchen, changes need to be made or the housing unit will be shut down.

”If there is no plumbing or kitchen, that is when an orange condemned sign goes up,” said Vince DeJoy, city development director. ”You just cannot have a house with no plumbing and no kitchen. It is really bad out there. There is a shortage of decent apartments that are affordable.”

DeJoy said when this situation arises, city officials contact the landlords to fix the problem. He said most landlords are very responsive when they receive a call from a code enforcement officer because they don’t want the rental unit to be closed.

”We go after the landlord to make the house or apartment is code compliant. We probably get a couple calls a week about unresponsive landlords. Sometimes it takes the tenant to call us in order for the landlord to respond,” he said. ”When the code department gets involved we have a better response rate because (the landlord) knows if something basic isn’t addressed, we could condemn it and that affects their revenue stream.”

Morris said sometimes tenants don’t want to get city officials involved because the apartment they are renting could be condemned, and they would have to find new housing. DeJoy said sometimes this is the case. He said if a tenant is removed from an inadequate apartment, city officials assist them with finding new housing.

”If it is found to be not safe and not code complaint we have no choice, but to shut it down and potentially put someone on the street, but we do work with (the tenant) to find them another apartment,” DeJoy said.