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Advantage Watertown: Time to focus on rental housing

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In recent years, efforts have been focused on getting new apartments built to fulfill the needs of Fort Drum soldiers.

But now Advantage Watertown is setting it sights on improving the city’s aging rental property. The subject dominated the group of business and community leaders when it met Thursday morning.

The group wants to put together a housing strategy that focuses on the problem and what can be done to help improve the condition of the city’s aging apartment houses.

For about 90 minutes, the group had an impromptu round-table discussion about the city’s rental housing.

“How do we get to be the poorest and how do we get to be one of the better ones?” said Advantage Watertown member Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr., who also serves as deputy director of Neighbors of Watertown Inc.

Advantage Watertown members plan to complete a rental housing assessment that would show how many apartments exist, what their condition is and what can be done to improve the situation. An ad-hoc committee plans to discuss the issue more Oct. 29 and then attend a Watertown City Council meeting to let the council know what it wants to do.

In 2009, Advantage Watertown devised a draft housing strategy for the city, but it was never implemented.

“We need to pool our resources,” City Manager Sharon A. Addison said, adding that the 2009 strategy was just a start and members need to expand on that effort if they want to go to City Council with a recommendation.

During the discussion, the group talked about a wide range of subjects, such as getting absentee landlords and other owners to fix up their properties, the availability of state and federal funding, landlord-tenant issues, how city code enforcement fits and what can be done to help struggling rental property owners.

Shawn R. McWayne, the city’s code enforcement officer, and City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk also took part in the conversation.

Mr. Schweitzer, who works with property owners on rental rehabilitation projects, told the group that the needs are great in the community but it is difficult for Neighbors to determine which owners should receive financial help to fix up their properties.

Advantage Watertown Chairman John K. Bartow Jr. suggested the group consider going after state funding to help landlords pay for greenhouse gas emission/energy-efficiency projects for their apartment buildings through a sustainability program.

“I think it would fit in with rental rehabilitation,” he said.

The community is closing in on a Fort Drum goal to create about 1,400 units, with several apartment complexes being built in recent years.

About 600 units are included in Starwood, Creek Wood and Summit Wood complexes alone in the city.

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