11 new firefighters added to Bloomington department, some will help staff temporary location

On Friday afternoon at the bottom of the grassy landscaped tiers in front Bloomington’s city hall, Devin Owens tore open an envelope and read aloud the contents: “Probationary firefighter Owens. I am assigned to Black Shift Station 1.”

The announcement earned a round of applause from a gathering of about 60 people.

The ritual reading aloud of station assignments by Owens and 10 other new firefighters came after they were sworn in by city clerk Nicole Bolden.

Fire chief Jason Moore, deputy chief Jayme Washel, battalion chief for training Tania Daffron, and a couple of dozen other firefighters attended the ceremony, as did Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, deputy mayor Don Griffin and several other city staff.

At 11 members, it’s the largest and most diverse recruiting class ever, Moore told The B Square.

The station to which Owens was assigned is currently closed, due to around a half million dollars worth of damage, which it sustained during the June 18–19 flooding. Continue reading “11 new firefighters added to Bloomington department, some will help staff temporary location”

American Rescue Plan Act: Bloomington mayor’s initial request to city council: $3.35M for support of housing, the arts, lead pipe removal

When Bloomington mayor John Hamilton announced at a news conference in early June that some of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding would be used for housing supports, no dollar amounts were attached.

Now released as a part of the city council’s July 21 meeting information packet is a plan for spending the estimated $22.3 million in ARPA funding that the city is expected to receive through the federal legislation.

An appropriation ordinance that echoes the numbers in the ARPA plan will get a first reading at the meeting.

The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, to help counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Housing supports, at $1.65 million, are about half of the total in the initial ordinance.

The breakdown for housing is: a $1.2 million grant to the United Way of Monroe County to address homelessness and housing insecurity; a $250,000 grant to the Bloomington Housing Authority to create affordable housing options; and $200,000 to encourage participation by landlords in the federal Section 8 voucher program.

On Friday, the United Way released the report and recommendations of a working group that has been convening since last year to address the question of how to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-repeating.” [Heading Home 2021] Continue reading “American Rescue Plan Act: Bloomington mayor’s initial request to city council: $3.35M for support of housing, the arts, lead pipe removal”

Bloomington city council to ask U.S. Senators to back legislation in support of labor unions

A resolution that will likely appear on the Bloomington city council’s agenda for July 21 would call for passage of the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021.

The image links to US Congress website entry for the PRO Act of 2021.

The resolution would, if approved, be forwarded to Indiana’s congressional delegation, including its two senators, Mike Braun and Todd Young.

That’s one of the topics that was addressed by the city council at its work session held last Friday.

Susan Sandberg, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said on Friday about the council’s support of the bill now pending in front of the U.S. Senate, “I feel it is an important component to affordability in this community…to make sure that wages are competitive, and we are respecting our labor force.”

The resolution’s other co-sponsor, Dave Rollo, did not attend Friday’s work session. Other councilmembers could ask to be added as co-sponsors. Isabel Piedmont-Smith said on Friday she would like to be added as a co-sponsor.

The PRO Act would, among other things, weaken the “right-to-work” laws of many states, including Indiana’s, which was enacted in 2012.

Under the PRO Act, according to the bill’s synopsis, collective bargaining agreements could require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the union for the cost of such representation, even if there’s a state law prohibiting that. Continue reading “Bloomington city council to ask U.S. Senators to back legislation in support of labor unions”

Township trustee on timing for Bloomington annexation: “What I’m hearing…is that’s taxation without representation.”

Van Buren Township, which forms part of the western edge of Monroe County, sits at the southwest corner of the city of Bloomington.

Inset of western portion of Monroe County showing township boundaries, city boundaries and proposed annexation areas. Areas with darker shades indicate those parcels with a remonstration waiver, regardless of date. The image links to a .pdf with vector graphics but no labels.

The township’s trustee is Rita Barrow, who has been elected to the post by Van Buren voters.

But most  Van Buren Township residents can’t vote for mayor, clerk, or councilmembers in Bloomington’s municipal elections. That’s because it’s only some small areas of Van Buren, with odd geometries, that currently are included inside city boundaries.

Under a current proposal by Bloomington to annex more township  territory into the city, more denizens of the township would add city residency to their resumes in 2024, and get the right to vote in city elections.

But the next Bloomington election would not come around until four years later, in November 2027.

That’s a sore point with potential annexees. And Barrow raised the issue on Friday morning at a meeting of the  Democratic Women’s Caucus. Continue reading “Township trustee on timing for Bloomington annexation: “What I’m hearing…is that’s taxation without representation.””

Analysis | A first look at remonstrance waivers: Numerical impact of new law not yet measured for Bloomington’s annexation effort

July is the last full month of summer before Monroe County Community School classes start on Aug. 4.

The darker shades of color indicate parcels with a remonstrance waiver of any date. Image links to a .pdf file with the image in vector graphic form.

The first day of school this year is also the date of a public hearing on Bloomington’s planned annexation of territory into the city.

The annexation of eight separate areas, each with its own parallel annexation process, would add more than 9,000 acres to Bloomington’s land area and about 14,000 new residents to its population.

With a public hearing on the horizon, and Bloomington city council votes expected in September, legal questions about remonstration waivers could come into sharper focus sooner than the time when the formal remonstration process would start.

Waivers are legal documents signed by a property owner giving up the right to remonstrate against annexation, in consideration of the ability to purchase utilities service from the city.

The key question is: Which waivers are valid? Indiana’s state legislature enacted a law in 2019 that voids any remonstration waiver signed before July 1, 2003.  The city of Bloomington says it is proceeding as if the older waivers are valid.

A formal remonstration process would start only after the city council voted to enact the annexation ordinance for a particular area. Continue reading “Analysis | A first look at remonstrance waivers: Numerical impact of new law not yet measured for Bloomington’s annexation effort”

Required occupancy affidavits for renters OK’d by Bloomington city council, but city’s HAND department won’t maintain records

On a 5–3 vote on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council approved a new local law that requires landlords to sign and maintain an affidavit that lists the occupants of their rental properties.

The basic law applies just to those buildings with four or fewer rental units.

Tenants also have to sign an affidavit affirming the accuracy of the landlord’s affidavit.

But under the ordinance as adopted by the council, the affidavits signed by the landlord and tenant don’t have to be submitted to the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department.

Instead they have to be maintained by the landlord, and produced for scrutiny during any HAND rental inspection, or in response to a request from the city.

The stewardship of the affidavits was changed from the HAND department to the landlord through a major amendment to the legislation [Am 03], which was adopted by the council on Wednesday night.

Also a part of the amendment was the deletion of the relationship information among tenants that had been required in the version presented to the council at its first reading in May.

Two weeks ago, when councilmembers could have taken final action, they instead decided to postpone consideration of the ordinance until this week.

The ordinance is intended to help the HAND department enforce the city’s zoning code on the definition of a “family.” Family relationships help determine the maximum occupancy for a housing unit, under Bloomington’s unified development ordinance (UDO). Continue reading “Required occupancy affidavits for renters OK’d by Bloomington city council, but city’s HAND department won’t maintain records”

Analysis: Ambiguities abound in proposed Bloomington law on occupancy affidavits for renters

This week, Bloomington’s city council will again consider an ordinance proposed by the administration that would require occupancy affidavits for many rental properties in the city.

At their Wednesday meeting, councilmembers could be hearing from some renters whose voices they haven’t heard before.

That’s because on Sunday afternoon, at Rev. Ernest D. Butler Park on Bloomington’s northwest side, a group called Neighbors United hosted a gathering meant to attract current renters to take a leadership role in forming a renters association in Bloomington.

Of the roughly 20 attendees on Sunday, half were renters. The talking point that wrapped up Sunday’s gathering in the park was the city council’s consideration of the city administration’s proposed new local law on occupancy affidavits. Continue reading “Analysis: Ambiguities abound in proposed Bloomington law on occupancy affidavits for renters”

Future housing in Bloomington to get boost with 28 emergency vouchers, $2.25M in federal funds, “multi-million dollar” request to city council by mayor

At a Tuesday press conference held on the back porch of the Bloomington Housing Authority’s community center on Summit Street, some new information was announced about support from the federal government for local housing programs.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, also announced that in July he’d be making a request of the city council to support housing initiatives, through an extra appropriation for the 2021 budget year.

The mayor’s request will be for a “multi-million dollar” investment of Bloomington’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Bloomington’s total amount of basic ARPA funds is around $22 million.

In other news announced on Tuesday, Bloomington Housing Authority executive director Amber Skoby said BHA is one of 700 housing authorities across the country that is receiving 28 new emergency vouchers. The vouchers are for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, fleeing, or attempting to flee domestic violence or who were recently homeless.

The emergency vouchers will be available starting July 1.

The city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) director, John Zody, prefaced his remarks by noting that last year Bloomington had received $250,000 in additional CDBG funds, to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zody announced that another $650,000 in pandemic-related CDBG funds will be made available for applications starting next week.

An additional fresh set of housing funds was announced by Zody. Bloomington will get  $1.6 million more through the American Rescue Plan.

The money can be used specifically for the preservation or production of affordable housing, tenant-based rental assistance, supportive services including homeless prevention services, and housing counseling, Zody said. No final guidance from the feds on the use of the extra $1.6 million has been provided, Zody said.

Also at Tuesday’s press conference, Tina Peterson (Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County) and Efrat Feferman (United Way of Monroe County) gave an update on their work to build a coalition to establish needed collaboration and coordination for the countywide area, to create a sustainable strategy to reduce housing insecurity and prevent homelessness.

Continue reading “Future housing in Bloomington to get boost with 28 emergency vouchers, $2.25M in federal funds, “multi-million dollar” request to city council by mayor”

Law requiring occupancy affidavits for renters put off at least 2 weeks by Bloomington city council

A decision on a proposed new local law that would require landlords and tenants to sign occupancy affidavits, and file them with the housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department, has been postponed by Bloomington’s city council until June 16.

The unanimous vote to postpone final action came after public commentary from one smaller-scale landlord and a representative of the local apartment association. They called into question the need for the new local law.

As councilmembers were mulling a longer postponement, until July 21, HAND director John Zody told them, “I would encourage the council to fix a date where we would hear this again, if possible, so that we can work off of a timeline.”

Zody told councilmembers the new ordinance is a priority for the administration.

It became a priority, Zody wrote in response to an emailed question from The Square Beacon, when the state legislature enacted legislation that prohibits the city from requiring the issuance of a tenant’s rights and responsibilities document. Bloomington’s rights and responsibilities document included a section similar to the occupancy affidavit. [SEA 148]

According to a “whereas” clause in the ordinance, Bloomington has “a demonstrated problem enforcing over-occupancy in residential rental units.” It’s a claim that drew skepticism during  public commentary.

The ordinance would require landlords to make a “diligent inquiry” into the family relationships, if any, among tenants, and list names of tenants, and the nature of those relationships. Continue reading “Law requiring occupancy affidavits for renters put off at least 2 weeks by Bloomington city council”

Tax abatement for affordable housing project next to new park to be weighed by Bloomington city council

By December 2022, Bloomington is expecting to see completed construction of Retreat at the Switchyard, a new housing project with 48 apartments designated as affordable.

The project is a 64-unit, 5-story building with first-floor retail space at the 1.5- acre site of the former Night Moves building on South Walnut Street, next to the new Switchyard Park.

To help the project along, Bloomington’s city council will be considering a resolution at its regular meeting on Wednesday that will take the required steps to give the project a tax abatement.

The resolution would set up the relevant parcels as an economic revitalization area and would approve a 10-year abatement schedule that would waive a total of $154,370 in taxes.

The first year’s abatement would be 100 percent of the taxes owed. That percent would ratchet down over a decade, so that $175,690 in taxes will have been paid by the end of the abatement period.

Next steps, after Wednesday’s expected council action to adopt the resolution, include a public hearing that’s set for June 16. The June 16 hearing will be followed by a city council vote to confirm, amend, or rescind the resolution adopted on June 2.

Another step, before construction can start in August on Retreat at the Switchyard, is a site plan review by the city plan commission.

Also at Wednesday’s city council meeting, a report will be heard on compliance for eight other tax abatements previously granted by the city council. Continue reading “Tax abatement for affordable housing project next to new park to be weighed by Bloomington city council”