Elections, Government

Morgantown City Council candidates discuss plans to address housing insecurity

MORGANTOWN —Three Morgantown City Council candidates gathered at the former Diamond Village encampment to bring awareness to housing insecurity and discuss plans to make housing more accessible.

“I know we have a long way to go, but it is my firm belief that we can start down a path to make Morgantown the best place it can possibly be to live,” said 7th Ward candidate Brian Butcher.

In solidarity with Butcher, 5th Ward candidate Marly Ynigues and T3rd Ward candidate Ixya Vega also spoke during the event. All three candidates are endorsed by Morgantown Can’t Wait, an offshoot of the state political action group WV Can’t Wait. 

The Morgantown Can’t Wait housing plan hopes to shift resources toward housing-first initiatives. This includes passing an evictions moratorium ordinance and right to housing ordinance, ending criminalization of houselessness, working to educate tenants about their housing rights and developing zoning ordinances to create more affordable housing.

The housing plan also includes ensuring large developments incorporate affordable housing units, ensuring landlords upkeep and maintain existing properties and making use of abandoned properties.

Butcher said during the time he attended Marshall University, he came across difficult times, which left him unable to afford housing. Unemployed and houseless, Butcher said he started his day looking for work, then looking for his next meal, and ended each day looking for somewhere to sleep. 

“Being poor, being hungry, being without a home, is terrifying,” Butcher said. “Every day is a precarious situation that is hard to describe to those that have not been through it.” 

Vega, a recent WVU graduate, said during her time as a student she often found herself moving homes, as finding an affordable place to live was a challenge. She said she hopes to make changes that allow students to have access to affordable and safe housing.

Butcher and Vega’s firsthand experience, along with Ynigues’ experience reshaping housing policy during her time on city council in Elkins, is what informed much of the candidates’ housing plan. 

“There is so much we can do for Morgantown,” Ynigues said. “We are not at the whim of developer prices to create affordable housing. ”

Along with incorporating their own experiences and values, Butcher said surveys and conversations, including those conducted by WV Can’t Wait, have revealed Morgantown residents feel the most important issue the city faces is housing insecurity and affordability. 

Because of this growing concern, Morgantown Can’t Wait candidates’ are not the only ones in this year’s election hoping to find solutions. 

Danielle Trumble, 5th Ward candidate, said she plans to avoid placing further regulations on the housing industry and instead looks to implement incentives for providing affordable housing. She also plans to collaborate with developers and agencies such as The Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority and the Housing Advisory Commission. 

Although she is not in favor of increased regulations, Trumble said she wants to see increased enforcement of current city codes to make existing housing safe, clean and accessible.

Part of Trumble’s plan is to use opportunities such as the Planned Unit Development in lower Woodburn near downtown to create new, affordable housing.

“City Council will have direct control over development here,” Trumble said. “This area is appropriate due to its proximity to downtown amenities like businesses, social services and public transportation.”

Paul Liller, 3rd Ward candidate, said he hopes to center his campaign around bringing all members of the community together, starting with creating transparency regarding solutions to housing issues and creating mutual respect for one another.

“We, as citizens of Morgantown, owe it to the folks who need us most to be informed so that we can find a way to help be a part of the solution,” Liller said.

The Dominion Post reached out to 5th Ward candidate Tony Setley and 7th Ward candidate Ben Mayle, but neither were available to respond in time for this report.

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