Housing is one of the most important areas of focus for many communities. The City of St. Joseph is no different and within the city of about 7,000 residents its focus has lately been on rental housing.
City officials are considering changes to city ordinances to help rental-property owners in the R1 zoning district. Specifically, the city ordinance requires new rental property to be owner-occupied with the owner residing at the residence, renting out a room. Given the state of the economy, the city has received requests to change that requirement.
The planning commission held a public hearing this week about the proposed change to the law that would allow property owners who have actively tried to sell their homes without success to rent their homes without living in them. The proposal is to allow rental-property owners to rent their homes without living in them for a period not to exceed two years and would require the provision of an interim-use permit.
Changes to rental regulations in St. Joseph are an ongoing issue. One of the first changes in that area came in 2011 when elected officials approved a similar change for those residents serving in the military. At that time, the city council also approved the creation of a rental-housing committee. St. Joseph Mayor Rick Schultz also commissioned an ad hoc committee to do similar work previously. The difference between the two groups is the rental-housing group can make recommendations to the city council.
Last year, city council members approved an exception for deployed military personnel who own rental properties. City law requires owners of residences to live in the property being rented. Residents serving in the military can now apply for an interim-use permit that will be valid only during deployment and active duty. The permit will be renewed annually with an initial term not to exceed two years. The move to extend that provision to all rental property owners is one that shows the city is not ignoring the requests of residents for assistance during an economic downturn. It also shows it acknowledges not only those serving in the military need assistance in upholding an ordinance that can be hard to heed in a slow housing market. The next step for the proposed change was unknown at the time this edition of the St. Joseph Newsleader went to press. The results of the hearing and city-council recommendation will be reported in an upcoming edition of the Newsleader.