Three residents approached the Monroe City Council Tuesday to address crime and the lack of affordable housing in the city.
“Driving around town its obvious 75% of the rentals in the downtown area are riddled with code violations,” Shauna Mathias of North Madison Avenue said.
“You can physically see it from the road. What is the current process to prompt landlords to keep their properties up to code and to keep their properties clean from junk and debris?”
She asked why code enforcement had allegedly not kept up with code violations on Lacy Street. Mathias said properties there do not have grass and some have 8-foot chain link fences with barbed wire surrounding properties.
She asked if any council members had stepped foot inside low-income properties as she has because she purchases such properties.
“The condition these people are living in are deplorable,” Mathias said. “And the city is allowing this to happen.”
She described seeing rat droppings inside cabinets, leaky roofs, broken windows and exposed crawl spaces due to rotted floors.
Felker Street resident Mike Mirolli, a former Gwinnett County police officer and detective, focused his comments on the need for a stronger law enforcement presence.
Mirolli told council members that following a recent shooting in the city it was his son and daughter-in-law’s home on East Church Street that was struck by a car as a continuation of that incident.
“We’ve seen an increase in gun violence, car break-ins, porch pirates, burglary and all of the above in our area,” Mirolli said. “Which begs the question: Do we have a properly funded police department?”
He said he doesn’t blame officers, believing they do “an excellent job” and understands what they deal with. However, Mirolli asked what immediate actions the city was taking to curb what he sees as a rise in crime. He asked the city if police salaries could be raised or if a higher sign-on bonus could be offered to recruit and retain additional officers.
Mayor John Howard confirmed the MPD requested hiring six more officers, but the city could only afford to hire two more.
Mirolli also said that after speaking with local police, he was told there are districts in Monroe police officers won’t venture into alone at night.
Lastly, he addressed what he sees as speeding and reckless driving on Felker and Washington streets and North Madison Avenue.
East Washington Street resident Jason Sams said he would like to see expanded code enforcement and would work with the city to find solutions.
City officials listened to the trio’s concerns and then weighed in.
Police Chief R.V. Watts said he has witnessed generational crime in Monroe. These issues did not develop overnight and cannot be resolved overnight, he said.
Watts said officers are performing to high standards, having seized 172 illegal firearms since January 2020 and responding to 167 shots-fired calls since last summer.
Watts said residents often don’t see the challenges police face daily, and invited citizens to request a ridealong with police to learn more about the job they do.
Councilman David Dickinson said the city has made improvements since he moved to Monroe years ago. Dickinson said he bought and renovated a home where drugs had been found — even describing seeing cast-off syringes in baby diapers. He recalled seeing someone in a house next door being thrown through a window presumably over a drug deal.
“Don’t quit,” Dickinson said. “Dig in; join us in the fight.”
Councilman Norman Garrett said it was difficult for those who never experienced poverty to understand the situation poor tenants often find themselves in. Garrett said they may be scared to report a landlord’s violations because they don’t have a place to go to should they be evicted.
Councilman Tyler Gregory said the city does want to address the housing crisis, which is why the council is considering changes to the central business district to allow for smaller and more affordable homes.