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Q&A: City council candidates for the Third Ward discuss how they would maintain safe and sanitary housing

EVANSVILLE — The Courier & Press asked candidates for Evansville City Council to share their responses to questions about some of the local issues on residents' minds.

Six seats are open on the nine-member city council in the Nov. 7 general election. This includes First Ward, Second Ward, Third Ward and three At-Large seats.

Because there are 12 candidates competing to fill these positions, the candidates were asked to keep replies to 200 words or less. The Courier & Press also gave the uncontested councilors seeking reelection the opportunity to answer.

Running for the seat are incumbent Democrat Zac Heronemus and Republican Joseph Kratochvil.

Does the city have enough housing? Speak specifically to your ward if applicable. 

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Zac Heronemus: "Housing scarcity is not unique to one ward within the city. As our most recent housing needs assessment (HNA) showed, the City of Evansville lacks more the 5,500 units of housing to meet the need and demand for home ownership and rental units on all levels – subsidized, affordable, workforce, market rate, and luxury. When looking at these numbers in the HNA, it states we need to work toward 3,000 units of homeownership and 2,500 units for rent. Searching for homes for sale in the Third Ward shows inventory is extremely low. All things considered, growth and development of units within the ward is most likely more difficult as vacant, usable land is even more scarce. Housing development needed to address the shortfall cited in the HNA is vital to the growth of Evansville and should be a high priority for all councilors moving forward whether the demand or capacity for development resides within their ward or not. Addressing the housing shortage is the greatest opportunity for us all to work together, in a bi-partisan manner, and position Evansville better for generations to come."

Third Ward Republican City Council candidate Joseph Kratochvil.

Joe Kratochvil: "We will always have a need affordable housing for our community. As city council candidate for Evansville’s Third Ward, I believe in individual liberties and free-market principles. We must encourage responsible community needs-focused development by working with stakeholders to ensure our city provides housing options for everyone. The best and most effective path to affordable housing involves increasing the supply. Right now, our city too often handcuffs builders and developers from increasing our supply. To remedy that, we must focus on reducing red tape and incentivizing more options. By fostering stakeholder collaboration and policies/ plans designed to encourage development, we can create a city that provides housing security for all its residents."

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Is the available housing affordable? And what does "affordable” mean to you?

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Zac Heronemus: "Housing affordability is relative to each and every household. Historically, we’ve always felt and believed that Evansville was an affordable place to live when owning or renting. What we know is that our city’s median average household income is relatively low and, especially since the pandemic, the cost of housing has increased significantly. A long-time seller’s market coupled with increased rental rates coming at the outset of the pandemic has caused home ownership and leasing a place to live to be much higher than our community is accustomed to. This challenge our city and community faces needs to be a high priority of all elected officials in Evansville and Vanderburgh County. Losing greater ground on housing affordability alongside increasing utility costs can be detrimental to Evansville and the region if we do not work toward solutions and strategies that meet these challenges head on."

Joe Kratochvil: "Yes, affordable housing is available in Evansville, but we can continue to do better. To me, affordability means our citizens can comfortably cover costs for clean, quality housing options while having enough money to provide for their families. Affordable housing means housing is affordable to maintain; utilities should not cost more than rent or a mortgage. Affordable housing means families have the opportunity to build generational wealth. As your Third Ward city council candidate, I believe in market-driven solutions that stimulate economic growth. By fostering responsible development, reducing unnecessary regulations/ restrictions, and encouraging quality competition in this vital market space, we can work toward more affordable housing options."

Would you support continuing to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund?

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Zac Heronemus: "I would absolutely support, as I have in the past, the continued funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) and will actively work to see more funding put in place to address our city’s housing needs. It is my belief that the AHTF has the capacity to positively impact our community and address our housing shortage due to the nature of the unrestricted funds available for developments Evansville needs the most. I have felt that this fund has been underutilized and underfunded for too long. When looking at other cities that leverage a fund of this type and when accounting for economies of scale, Evansville should be investing $2.5 Million in the fund to help meet the need and demand the housing needs assessment shows us. If reelected, I will work diligently with the next mayor and administration as well as with council to ensure we are incrementally building this fund as one of many tools to address the housing needs of Evansville."

Joe Kratochvil: "The Affordable Housing Trust Fund plays a crucial role in addressing our city's housing needs. We need to support initiatives that ensure access to affordable housing. However, it's vital to maintain transparency and accountability in how these funds are allocated and used. It's not a matter of partisan politics; it's about making decisions that serve the people of Evansville. We must be accountable in how taxpayer dollars are spent to ensure we can continue to provide pathways for affordable housing options. Let's focus on results and working together to build a stronger, inclusive city. Quality of place starts with quality of life."

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How would you use your position on city council to ensure housing is also safe and clean?

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Zac Heronemus: "Indiana is a state that values property ownership much more than the human lives that inhabit residences for rent. As it is today, Indiana is one of only eight states that does not have tenant rights laws in place to ensure that housing conditions are safe, sanitary, and secure. While there are not state laws that give tenants leverage to not pay rent or take other actions when deficiencies in housing conditions are unmet and ongoing by the landlord, on the municipal level, we have opportunity to implement measures to ensure individuals and families who rent are able to do so knowing that the property they lease has passed inspection. Rental registry and inspection programs are operating in other communities in Indiana and have been around since the late 70s and early 80s in Bloomington, Lafayette, and more. Earlier this year, Clarksville, Indiana, deployed a robust rental registry and inspection program to improve housing conditions for all of their residents. We cannot continue to allow our residents − the seniors, families with children, those who may have preexisting conditions, and more − to be subjected to unsafe, unsanitary, or unsecure housing conditions."

Joe Kratochvil: "Safety and cleanliness in housing are essential to for our city residents. I do believe in limited government intervention. I also believe in responsible governance. As your city council representation for Evansville’s Third Ward, I will advocate for effective, common sense regulations and codes to ensure the safety and cleanliness of housing without burdening property owners with excessive bureaucracy. Purposeful, needs based neighborhood development is critical to solving our housing needs in Evansville. City leadership needs to develop relationships that encourage responsible local property owners/ affiliated investor organizations to continue investing in Evansville. If we find ways to keep their development dollars in Evansville, we will drive development to the places in our city that need it the most. Working with business owners, community leaders, and city stakeholders we can strike a balance that promotes public safety and sanitation while respecting individual property rights." 

Do you feel local landlords, who do not properly maintain their properties, are currently being held accountable?

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Zac Heronemus: "Not at all. This is evident in the neighborhoods where we, as a city, see the highest amount of blight. Many neighborhoods where a higher percentage of investor-owned properties are riddled with homes that are unkempt, have glaring deficiencies in their exteriors if not outright code violations going unaddressed, and degrade the community and neighborhood fabric vital to growth, hope, and possibility for the residents that call these neighborhoods their home. We have to do better enforcing our local laws and holding landlords who own, rent, and manage substandard housing more accountable for the maintenance and upkeep of their properties as it impacts us all."

Joe Kratochvil: "In the past I do think there were various challenges to address underperforming landlords, however the building Commissioner in conjunction with POMA has implemented a plan to address poorly maintained properties in our city. Accountability must apply to all aspects of our community, including property maintenance. Thankfully, most local property owners in Evansville manage their investment properties in an accountable, transparent manner to serve the needs of their tenants. I believe in both personal responsibility and respect for property rights, and that every resident deserves safe and well-maintained housing. We must work to reward the investors and property owners who are providing well maintained, affordable housing for Evansville’s residents and work with local property management organizations to identify landlords/ properties who are not adhering to regulations, protecting the well-being of their tenants and neighborhoods. By fostering cooperation between city officials, law enforcement, and property owners, we can maintain a balance that respects individual rights while holding those who neglect their responsibilities accountable."

What would be your suggested action as a city councilor when presented with an apartment complex experiencing widespread issues like the community saw with Woodland Park? 

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Zac Heronemus: "We have to enact and deploy local ordinances that provides departments such as Code Enforcement the explicit ability to address the situation at hand. A more robust rental registry and inspection program could help us get the department better positioned to address egregious situations such as what we saw with Woodland Park. We must also work with the next administration, our local state elected representatives and senators, and collectively, as a community to advocate for changes at the statehouse pertaining to legislation addressing housing conditions. Every person or family should have access to safe, sanitary, or secure housing. Today, in Evansville, that is unfortunately not the case."

Joe Kratochvil: "When faced with challenges like those at Woodland Park, my role as a city councilor would be to act swiftly and decisively. My priority is the well-being and safety of our residents and community. I would advocate for immediate action including enforcement of existing regulations, conducting regular inspections of problem sites , and working to ensure that the quality of life for residents is upheld. Additionally, I would propose a comprehensive approach that involves open communication with residents, local authorities, and public/private partnerships with the local property management/investor groups to ensure this type of situation does not happen again. By working together, we can find practical solutions to address the issues, whether they relate to safety, maintenance, or community well-being. It is city leadership’s job to not only intervene on our citizens behalf to ensure that property owners take responsibility for their complexes and make necessary improvements but to work good business owners to incentive them to keep their investments here in Evansville." 


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