Mayor takes criticism of landlord plan in stride

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Tuesday that she was anticipating a degree of pushback at the Monday night town hall meeting after she announced her plan to require residential landlords with property in the city to acquire a business permit.

“Regarding some of the questions asked last night it is pretty apparent that they came from those who either had not attended our previous meetings with members of the Jefferson County Landlord Association or who are not yet members of the organization,” Hollingsworth said. “Since this was the first time that some of them had heard this information I expected to hear questions from them. Monday night was not the first time that the Landlord Association had heard this information. As a body this has been discussed twice before with them.”

Hollingsworth said that while the permit will likely cost $25 to obtain, the intent of the permit is not to generate funds for the city.

“Our overall objective is not to generate fees but to establish a partnership between the city and the landlords and to establish an owner of record so that we have a point of contact for all of the residential rental properties,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth said Monday that the $25 permit fee would be waived for members of the Jefferson County Landlords Association.

“I will get with the city attorney to see what legally can and can’t be done regarding offering the fee waiver,” Hollingsworth said. “I want to create a win-win situation for the city and for the landlords. There is strength in numbers so I want to see the landlord association grow. As a group they work together on some things and we want to see that cooperation grow between the landlords and between the association and the city.”

Hollingsworth said the city will work to ensure that the reach of the proposed new requirement will extend to absentee landlords.

“I need to pull the relevant ordinance and see what the existing law says about requiring absentee landlords to maintain a local agent,” Hollingsworth said. “Then we will make sure that each of them is both aware of the ordinance and in compliance with the ordinance.”

Jean Painton, president of the landlords association, said she couldn’t discuss the issue Tuesday but might be able to comment Wednesday.

Hollingsworth re-emphasized Tuesday the importance of the upcoming streetscape project that will update the sidewalks and add greenery and other amenities to the Main Street corridor from Eighth Avenue to Barraque Street.

“Like the gentleman said last night, you have to start somewhere,” Hollingsworth said. “There is a core group of people who have downtown businesses who are working tirelessly and passionately to turn the image of Pine Bluff around. Building the new sidewalks and adding the plantings and other improvements will definitely be the first phase of revitalizing our downtown area if not the main phase of it.”

Hollingsworth said that once the streetscape project is completed the image of downtown Pine Bluff will be improved and this will help to adjust the negative mindset that some people have of the area.

“From it we will see the economic turnaround downtown that we have all been wanting,” Hollingsworth said.