Jacqueline Lee, Belleville News-Democrat, September 16, 2013
Belleville City Council members on Monday approved a crime-free housing ordinance for the city with a 13-3 vote.
The city has been holding discussions since 2011 on whether to implement the national program to lower crime in rental housing.
Landlords now have until Nov. 1 to take a training class on the crime-free housing program. Landlords do not have to take the class if they already are certified from other metro-east cities with existing crime-free programs.
The crux of the ordinance requires landlords to register their rental units for a $25 annual fee; run criminal background checks on potential tenants over 18; and make an effort to evict tenants charged with crimes.
Before the vote, the council heard from residents, landlords and aldermen about the proposed ordinance. At least seven residents spoke in favor of the ordinance and at least eight expressed an opinion against it.
Some speakers questioned the legality of the ordinance, and said it unfairly targets black renters and does not give landlords much recourse.
City Attorney Garrett Hoerner says the ordinance is constitutional, valid and enforceable and does not require landlords to do anything that would violate fair-housing rules.
Other speakers, including representatives of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce, said it’s time for the city to have a program to protect the quality of life for Belleville residents and address safety issues in neighborhoods that stem from renters.
Resident Rose Wilson reminded council members that Belleville is not the only city to consider a crime-free housing program. The program has been passed by other metro-east communities and it has been credited with helping to lower crime in rental housing in those communities.
Belleville resident Lee Otis Griffin said the ordinance discriminates against black residents and will present lots of problems down the road for the city. He made yet another plea for the city to hire more black employees.