Aberdeen councilman calls for home inspection

Mayor calls the request `childish' and says he has looked into more `housing first' options for the homeless

Sun follow-up

December 04, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

An Aberdeen official has asked for an inspection of a city-owned property that was leased to a homeless man earlier this year, saying there were concerns over the home's condition and the potential for liability issues.

Councilman Michael G. Hiob filed the request last week after he was unable to find city or county records that show the house was properly inspected before Lewis B. Miller Jr. was given a one-year lease - free of charge - to get his life back on track.

Miller moved out of the woods and into the vacant bungalow in March with the help of former City Manager Peter Dacey, who said he had the home informally inspected by the city's then-public works director. The City Council later voted to have Miller evicted, only to rescind the decision and extend the lease.

But Hiob said a recent article in The Sun detailing the arrangement, as well as new Mayor S. Fred Simmons' plan to extend the idea citywide, renewed his concerns.

"I'm not advocating throwing him out into the cold. It's too late for that," Hiob said. "But I want to find out if it meets livability standards to cover the city and find out if there are any problems that could get [Miller] hurt or somebody visiting him hurt. I don't want the city to get sued."

Simmons said he planned to visit the property tomorrow with the city's housing inspector and pledged to promptly repair any problems. But he questioned Hiob's motivation for filing the request and called it "unprofessional" and "childish."

"He doesn't like it, so he got a form and is saying it's not good for the city," Simmons said. "He's just trying to sidestep the fact that he doesn't want [Miller] there."

Hiob said that, regardless of the outcome of the inspection, the city should not renew or extend the agreement when it expires in March, a view he said he has held since first learning the details.

"It's a bad arrangement for the city, with or without the livability standards," he said Friday. "We have something of value - the city budget is taxed. We need to find more revenue sources and could subdivide that parcel and sell it. It's nothing against the person living there.

"[Miller] said he wants to stay [in the home]. That's not what's good for the city. We need to get rid of the risk and sell the place."

Dacey has said his intention was to help Miller support himself and eventually be able to find his own place. The initial agreement was only to last four months but was extended after the council flap.

Since then, Miller has been working as a janitor at a local motel, though he said much of his income comes from the Social Security checks of ex-wife Irene Sliver, who also lives in the home. Only Miller's name is on the lease.

Meanwhile, Simmons said he has explored the idea of creating similar arrangements in the city, though they would be bankrolled by corporations and would have more oversight.

They would follow the "housing first" model that homeless advocates across the nation have turned to in recent years with considerable success. In most cases, homeless people are provided with an apartment or townhouse and are paired with a social worker.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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