Salisbury Housing Board Cuts Landlord Position

SALISBURY — The “landlord” position, a part of the five-person Salisbury Housing Board of Adjustments and Appeals (HBAA) since its foundation 30 years ago, has been cut in favor of adding a public safety official.

Debate over the change stretched throughout a city council work session Monday. While the majority eventually decided the switch would be the best move for the HBAA, not all members were satisfied.

“When people are excluded from the conversation all together or feel that their views are summarily dismissed, they are more likely to resist compliance, even if the end result is identical to that of the inclusionary scenario,” said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell.

The debate over board composition did not originally call for the removal of the landlord position. Instead, it was at first suggested that a limit be placed on how many of any given occupation could reside on the HBAA. For example, there could only ever be one doctor, one engineer or one architect.

“Each of the members should be exclusive to each other,” suggested Councilman Tim Spies.

Council President Terry Cohen agreed that the board composition should be kept “diverse” and that limiting one of each profession would allow access to more fields and experiences overall. Mitchell got a different impression from the discussion.

“What you really don’t want is more than one landlord,” said Mitchell.

Council Vice-President Deborah Campbell suggested that there might be better options than a landlord, particularly, granting the spot to a public safety official. In her opinion, the housing board would benefit more from having someone with public safety experience than a landlord, who might know little to nothing about the technical aspects of the housing industry.

“I do think that a public safety official could be beneficial to the board, particularly in cases involving overcrowding, unsafe living/building conditions, etc. because they are often the ones who have to go to or into the dwelling post disaster and determine causation,” Mitchell said.

But Mitchell maintained that one of the two “at large” positions on the board could be designated to host a public safety official instead, sparing the council the need to eliminate the landlord spot.

Some on the council did take issue with the fact that landlords are intimately tied to the housing market, as it affects their livelihoods. Campbell wondered if there might be a conflict of interest with having a position specifically on the board for a person who could greatly profit or lose based on their decisions.

Mitchell refuted that argument, saying, “If we take out all we touch with it, we’re back to nobody. Everyone brings a set of expertise and perspectives…and I think it is wrong for council to think that any one group has nothing to offer or that they should not be part of the process because of their involvement in the industry. I would suggest that quite the opposite is true.”

While Campbell and Mitchell were firmly entrenched in their views, Cohen admitted that she was walking the line.

“I have mixed feelings regarding removing landlords in deference to public safety,” she told the council. “I’m not out to be unfair to the industry…I can appreciate the concerns in the room.”

In the end, however, the rest of the council except Mitchell agreed replacing the traditional landlord position with one reserved for a public safety official would bring the most diversity and expertise to the HBAA.