By RACHEL DOVE-BALDWIN
WILLIAMSON - “They buy the property on the courthouse steps, they do the minimal improvements allowed by law, and then the federal government pays them rent to allow people qualifying for assistance to live there at no cost to themselves,” said Mingo County Commission President John Mark Hubbard during the second commission meeting for the month of June.
“And that’s not the least of it,” continued Hubbard. “There are numerous individuals who are conducting illegal activity from these properties that include drug dealing. This is not acceptable and we need to come together in a unified effort and stop this.
“We’re never going to change the dynamics of this county until we take a stand and say this is not acceptable and enforce it.”
Hubbard, along with fellow Commissioners Greg “Hootie” Smith and David Baisden, were speaking about the problem that has become prevalent throughout the entire county involving abuse of the public assistance program and that of “slumlords” who get reimbursed each month by the Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that pays a portion or in most cases, the entire monthly rent charged to tenants who are on a limited budget.
“I’m all for helping those who need it, but we’re talking about two types of people here that are not abiding by the rules and regulations,” continued Hubbard. “First, we have the landlords who are getting rich off of renting properties that are not up to par. They repair and renovate these properties they buy for next to nothing just enough to pass federal guidelines that govern housing rules and regulations, and then they don’t do anything until the next annual inspection rolls around.
“Second, you have certain individuals who don’t work that are physically able – who just lay back, have their rent and utilities paid, use food stamps to purchase their groceries and who sit and talk on the cell phones provided for them by the government - free of charge, arranging drug deals to sell the prescription drugs that their medical card paid for.
“Enough is enough!”
Hubbard spoke of how a single family will qualify for rental assistance but shortly after they occupy the home, several others that weren’t listed on the lease will move in and soon after, there will be a house overflowing with people.
“I’ve driven by places that are being rented that have cars sitting in the driveway or on the street that are licensed in other states, and I’m not talking about visitors, I’m speaking of those that are staying at the residence. It’s like they jump back and forth across the state lines getting anything and everything they can for free.
“We – the taxpayers of this county are footing this bill.
“You can sit and watch car after car stop at the houses, see people going in and out all hours of the night and nothing is being done, and that needs to change.” said Hubbard.
Williamson City Police Chief C.D. Rockel was present during the commission meeting, and Hubbard asked if he agreed with the statements that were made.
“Oh I think you are 100 percent right,” said Rockel. ‘This is a problem that affects the entire county, not just one particular portion.”
Hubbard spoke of how important these federal and state programs are to those who have a legitimate need, but stated that what gets him riled are those that simply abuse the system because it is there, when they are more than able to hold a job.
“There needs to be laws and regulations put into effect that keep a close eye on those receiving services and assistance with rent and other needs,” said Smith. “Whether it’s a quarterly inspection instead of an annual one, or random home checks and drug testing to weed out those who aren’t law abiding citizens, I agree wholeheartedly with John Mark that there needs to be a change.”
The commissioners were informed by a representative from the Mingo County Housing Authority that they do conduct drug testing on residents who live in public housing directly owned and managed by the program, and agreed that the same rule should apply to those receiving rental assistance who live in private homes owned by landlords who are reimbursed through HUD.
“The occupants need have tighter restrictions and rules on what they are doing inside the homes, and there are landlords who truly should be classified as slumlords who should also have to toe the line before they receive one single cent in federal funds,” said Hubbard.
“It’s way past the time that changes should have been implemented and rules should have been reinforced, but we have to start somewhere, so I say – now’s the day.
“We will meet with anyone that has a concern about this matter, and I’m hopeful we can work with the housing authority board and local law enforcement officers to put an end to this growing problem that, if not corrected, is going to explode into catastrophic conditions that will be impossible to reverse.”
An additional article outlining the remainder of the topics discussed during the MCC meeting will be featured in Thursday’s edition of the Daily News.