Saltillo focuses on codes, enforcement

By Cain Madden/NEMS Daily Journal

SALTILLO – After Bill Williams became mayor, he had to apologize to a staffer at the Community Development Foundation.
“In 2005, when I was running for mayor, I talked to a young man at the CDF,” Williams said. “I went before I was ever elected and told him that when I got elected, that he better be ready to roll his sleeves up and get to work.”
The CDF supports Lee County’s small municipalities with planning services, including building codes.
Williams’ goal was to improve building codes for developers, which for years had been substandard for the region and had caused problems, including drainage and a short life span for neighborhoods.
“Once I got elected, I came in here and started studying the ordinances and policies we had in place, and I had to apologize to the young man,” Williams said. “We had some pretty good procedures in place, they just weren’t being enforced.”
From 2000 to 2010, the population of Saltillo increased by 39.7 percent, from 3,403 to 4,752. Housing units have gone from 1,414 to 1,992.
Of those units, 1,310 are owner-occupied, 569 are renter occupied and 113 are vacant. One problem is that over the last 10 years, renter-occupied units have grown at a 45.4 percent clip, while owner-occupied units have only increased at a 42.4 percent clip.
“We recognize, in today’s economy, that many people need to rent, for whatever reason – a lot of people just can’t get mortgages,” said Jon Milstead, the director of community planning at CDF. “The demand for rental units has gone up, and we have to manage it for a lot of reasons.”
Zoning, floodplain and building administrator Brian Grissom said rental units are increasing in neighborhoods that were built in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while homeowners are moving into the subdivisions being built now.
“Developers were able to get away with doing things to maximize profit, such as creating narrow streets, cramping homes together and creating open ditches,” Grissom said. “This translates into a short lifespan for neighborhoods.”
Since then, the board has improved existing ordinances and passed construction standards. The board also has to approve site plans for any major development.
This has improved the standard of homes being built now, 27 during 2011, Grissom said.
“When a homeowner sits down and pays that 30-year mortgage, I now feel good that they have a quality product,” Williams said. “I’m proud of that.”
Williams said that people who rent are not bad people, and added that he has rented in the past. Williams said Saltillo would always have rental units, but that it was more desirable to have a larger percent of the housing units owner-occupied.
“If you own, you have more skin in the game of this town,” Williams said. “You are more conscious of your neighborhood, more likely to take pride in the community and more invested in the goings on of the community.”
The board and officials are beginning the process of creating an ordinance to increase the standards of rental units.
“This is not just a question of the long term owner-to-renter rate, but also one of the living quality now,” Grissom said. “There are some places where the living conditions are well below standard.
“The people who have maintained their properties, including renters, are all for this. It keeps property values up.”

Click video to hear audio