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Athens city gets new code enforcement director amid controversy over housing conditions

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The city hired a new director of Athens Code Enforcement and Community Development — the department responsible for enforcing housing laws — amid an ongoing discussion among public officials and residents about the state of rental properties and housing conditions.

David Riggs, who began the job last week, previously served as public works director for more than 17 years in Mason, Ohio, a suburb northeast of Cincinnati. He studied civil engineering at the Ohio State University and worked in a number of other private and public engineering jobs.

Although he lived in Mason for 22 years, Riggs was born and raised nearby in Meigs County, less than 20 miles south of the city Athens.

“I love the community,” Riggs said. “I always loved the university and all the feel of the different cultures — I just love it. I think it’s great.”

Riggs hopes to improve the state of housing in Athens by informing both renters and landlords of local housing laws, he said. The director’s short-term goal is to familiarize himself with Athens’ housing laws and collaborate with the university and city to promote economic development.

“I think it would be great to have a place where if you wanted to stay in this area coming out of the university, you could have a business development group or something that actually could greet you and keep you here,” Riggs said.

Athens City Council recently introduced legislation to help combat poor housing conditions in the city by increasing penalties for landlords who neglect to perform maintenance on rental properties, according to a previous TNP report. Councilmember Chris Fahl, a supporter of the proposal, is critical of Athens’ housing infrastructure.

Our housing stock is run down and not affordable across the income spectrum. We need to diversify housing stock,” Fahl said.

She also noted code enforcement lacks enough employees to effectively enforce housing laws. There are nine employees who work for the office, Riggs said. Only four employees, however, performed housing inspections in the past year, according to The Athens NEWS.

Riggs said he plans to examine data on the department’s performance before he considers hiring more inspectors.

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