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Changing Bylaws will not Solve Neighborhood Issues

Editor’s note: In February, some city residents expressed dissatisfaction with their inability to participate in their neighborhood associations because they rent, not own, their homes. Since then the city has been looking at creating rules for neighborhood associations wishing to participate on the Neighborhood Advisory Board, a city board that represents the interests of neighborhood associations city wide.

by Vince Bellis

Controversy concerning the Neighborhood Advisory Board has gotten out of hand. Let’s cut to the chase. The issue of representation on the NAB boils down to achieving a balance between the interests of three populations: short-term residents, often renters; owners of rental property, whether local or not; and long-term residents, often homeowners.

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Short-term residents typically occupy a particular dwelling for three or fewer years. They desire a safe, inexpensive and comfortable place to live; they prefer not to get tied down to mortgage payments, home repair or lawn care. Renting instead of purchasing is a way temporary residents avoid these commitments.

Rental landlords have invested in their properties and many maintain them well. Some landlords do not live nearby and find it difficult to adequately monitor their rental units. Other landlords employ management companies to maintain the property. Maintenance and property improvement at rental units varies from very good to just meeting code requirements. Code violations are a recurring problem at a few rental units.

For long-term residents, their home is often their major life investment. They pay a mortgage and want to maintain, or even improve, property value. They desire neighborhood stability and feel their investment is threatened when neighborhoods become unstable. Their sense of community is lost when long-time neighbors and families are replaced by a succession of new residents. Single-family homes converted to rental units, friends moving away and ceasing to participate in neighborhood activities, streets crowded with parked cars, houses and lawns unkempt: these often lead to a feeling of neighborhood instability.

Very few neighborhoods in Greenville currently experience tension between the interests of long and short-term residents. But in neighborhoods where that tension does exist, issues such as the number of persons per rental unit, proximity of bars to residential housing, criminal activity, code violations, parking and trash have occupied much of the community development department, city council, and the NAB’s time.

Although the NAB has no power other than to forward citizen concerns to city council, the board has become a lightning rod since it took several positions on controversial issues. The intent of the NAB is to promote neighborhood stability and to serve as a conduit for neighborhood concerns to reach city council. Some have argued that individuals already have that opportunity via elected city council representatives. While this is true, it has proven useful for neighborhood leaders to consolidate and prioritize neighborhood concerns and then present them in a concise manner in the form of advice to city council.

I have served on the NAB since its inception and am well aware of its weaknesses. The board has been greatly inhibited by a tiered organizational structure and by byzantine bylaws and election procedures that have discouraged participation and have resulted in a high turnover rate among neighborhood liaisons and board members. Recent actions by the city council intended to strengthen the NAB were based on an incomplete understanding of NAB structure and its current leadership, and on an erroneous understanding of the fundamental issue. The changes mandated by the Greenville City Council will make the NAB more cumbersome and even less effective.

Tinkering with bylaws does not address the root problems concerning the structure and operation of the NAB. It is time to review how other cities organize their citizen advisory committees and to consider revisions that will make the NAB truly representative and more effective.

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Vince Bellis is a voting member of the Neighborhood Advisory Board.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not meant to represent the NAB or its members.

Read more about this board in the article we published in August 2012.

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One Response

  1. Andrew Morehead says:

    Remarkable that members of the City Council and the UNA believe that removing TRUNA from the NAB will affect anything to do with the opposition to the University Neighborhood Rental Incentive. The NAB and neighborhood associations have a long term interest in the health of their neighborhoods, while many renters do not, moving on in a year or two. Does the Hilton allow their overnight guests to vote on their governance structure? TRUNA recognizes that some renters have a long term desire to be a part of the neighborhood, and allows them to vote after a waiting period. We also have a position on the board reserved for the student government association and welcome all residents to our meetings. In a typical year, the only votes we take are in the election of the board and to spend funds on such things as the community garden, the website, and our neighborhood potlucks (and membership is not required for being part of the garden or attending the potlucks, we welcome all).

    Ironic that the UNA desires to be part of the NAB (thus the move to allow more than one association per neighborhood), but excludes homeowners from their meetings.

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