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Clarksburg lacking in quality apartments

by Paul Leakan


(Sunday, July 5) Margaret Stewart found the perfect place.

After searching for about a month, Stewart found an apartment that was just right: It was clean, under her budget and close to work.

Stewart, a Clarksburg Continuous Care employee, gladly signed the lease on the Milford Street apartment.

Like many in the area, however, the search for a suitable moderate income apartment led Stewart through the confines of several crumbling places.

"I looked at about 7 or 8," Stewart said. "Most of the other places were a lot more rundown. A lot of the woodwork was really damaged and the carpets were bad. I really wasn't satisfied with any of them."

The search for a quality apartment in Clarksburg can be a difficult venture, especially for those with fixed, moderate or low incomes, according to some local real estate brokers. And it may be because quality moderate income rentals in Clarksburg are either too expensive to maintain, or they simply aren't being built anymore.

"In Clarksburg, there's really more older developments," said Jack Powers, a real estate broker at Your Property Center in Clarksburg and Bridgeport. "Most of the new developments and subdivision developments in the last 20 years have been in Bridgeport."

In addition, figures as of 1990 show that more than 86 percent of all housing units in Clarksburg were built by 1959 or earlier, according to the city's market profile report.

As a result, the worn-down apartments often can be the only options for those looking for moderate- to low-income rental apartments, Powers said.

"There just aren't a lot of good rentals in the $250-350 range," Powers said. "There has not been a significant development that would assist the people that need to be in the $250-350 price range."

There aren't any developments in the works because some developers say it's just not economically feasible to build lower-rent apartments.

"There's an economic parameter you have to deal with," said Cuz Blake, a partner with Blake Enterprises, a development company in Bridgeport and Clarksburg. "You have to ask: How are we going to make the rental cheaper?

"You would have to cheapen the quality of construction," he said. "You would have the cheapest materials, the cheapest appliances, a single bathroom and no air conditioning."

Developing low- to moderate-rent apartments would just be a poor investment, Blake said.

"You can't get much value in a new $350 a month apartment," he said. "After a few years, it's somewhat worn out. It costs you more in the long run."

With little to no development of lower and moderate income apartments, many of the older apartments continue to fall apart, according to James Marino, a city building inspector.

"Basically if you own the home, you maintain it," Marino said. "If you rent it out, you might not. In Clarksburg, it's a combination of problems. It's an old town, and there's a lot of old people living on a fixed income."

The lack of care by apartment owners and tenants can be seen by a mere glance, Marino said. And the most common violations for rentals in the city are usually visible on the outside, he added.

"There's a lot of rubbish exterior-wise," he said. "We're first alerted to the property by the exterior. If the property is bad on the outside, then it's probably bad in the inside."

The usual exterior violations include peeling paint, piled tires and rotting couches, Marino said.

The city's engineering department wants to increase the safety of rentals by enforcing strict building codes. But while some complain about building safety, others just want affordable rentals.

And some people wonder if the area's rentals have been soaring in cost since the FBI's Criminal Justice Investigation Services facility was built nearly three years ago.

But the arrival of the FBI complex is not the reason for rental increases, according to Powers. He said there may have been about a 10 percent increase in rental apartments in the last few years because of high tax rates.

Apartments fall under Class II housing, which is taxed at twice the rate as Class IV, or houses that the owner actually occupies, Powers said.

"Tax increases have caused some to either raise rent or get rid of the property," he said.

Higher taxes, less chance for profit and little development all lead to diminishing choices in moderate income housing, Powers said.

Other veterans of real estate agree.

"With the taxes and the insurance, you have to put that rent up," said Jo Ann Davis, a real estate broker and owner of Beeghley's in Nutter Fort. "In some cases, in order to pay the taxes, you need the first three months' rent."

The future of lower rent apartments, however, could hinge on the development of new building materials and construction, Blake said.

"Wouldn't it be nice if someone could come up with a way where we could bring down the building cost?" he asked. "That's what we need, some type of breakthrough."

Until then, tenants such as Stewart feel lucky to have found a suitable, affordable apartment in Clarksburg.

"If I would have had to pay a lot more rent than I'm paying now," she said, "I couldn't have made it."