GREENFIELD — A neighborhood of homes converted into rental properties without permission has sparked concerns among local officials who worry the issue could be widespread.
City officials this week OKed a resident’s request to rezone his property after learning many of the houses in the small neighborhood where he lives violate Greenfield’s zoning code, which regulates how property may be used.
Six houses along Noble, School and Sixth streets near downtown Greenfield will be rezoned to allow for multi-family homes. City officials say four of the six houses in the neighborhood have been improperly converted over the years into apartments to house at least two families — one houses four.
It’s a problem city officials fear might be happening all over Greenfield as property owners try to create housing options that meet a variety of income levels. Duplexes are attractive to low-income renters, officials say.
After a fire destroyed Phil Hinchman’s two-story rental property at 502 W. 6th St. last year, he was issued a remodel permit to fix the home and invested approximately $100,000 in renovations, Harold Gibson, who represents Hinchman, wrote in a letter to the council. Then the city planning office revoked the permit because the two-family residence violated city rules.
But the issue wasn’t new; Hinchman has been using the home as a two-family rental property for more than 20 years. At some point, the structure was given a second address by the planning office and received the proper paperwork to have two sewer systems, city planner Joanie Fitzwater told the council earlier this month when the issue was first raised.
That paperwork was issued by a previous administration and shouldn’t have been, she said.
An easy way to fix the problem is to grandfather in violators by rezoning the properties, Fitzwater said. In Hinchman’s case, the structure would then comply with city standards, so the owner could continue leasing two apartments as he has for two decades.
At the time, some city councilmen balked at the idea.
Councilman Dan Riley said too many single-family homes are being converted into multi-family residences, and city officials need to send a message they won’t allow it.
He agreed there might not be enough affordable housing options to meet demand, but homes being converted illegally could pose safety risks to residents.
This week, the council relented, unanimously approving an ordinance that changes the zone, aligning the non-compliant structures with city standards.
Riley admitted he, too, had a change of heart, saying it would be difficult to make the homes abide by the single-family rules since they’re already being used as double-family structures.
Going forward, he wants city officials to look at ways to keep violations from happening in the first place, he said.