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Making motels safer for all

Being poor can be costly, and Belleville’s changes to its Crime Free Housing Program are about to make it even more so.

Beginning in January, people who live in a motel longer than 30 days will have to pay for an occupancy permit plus other program costs that motel owners likely will pass onto them – money they probably don’t have. People who make a motel their residence typically are already paying more per month than they would if they rented an apartment, but that’s likely the only housing option they have.

The new rules will also hit the pockets of charitable groups, which often pick up the tab for people to live in a motel temporarily. This will cut into their ability to help other needy people.

But when you hear Joe Hubbard, president of St. Vincent de Paul, say that some down-on-their-luck families are living in their cars rather than risk staying in a dicey motel, when you see the dozens of police calls a year at some of these places, it’s clear that Belleville has a problem that must be addressed.

The city needs to monitor the program carefully and tweak it if necessary. Motel living is different enough from apartment living that one-size-fits-all rules may not work. Some standards that make sense for apartments won’t transfer well to a motel – for instance, minimum room size. The 30-day occupancy permit requirement may be too short a time for a motel.

For now, credit the city with taking a necessary step toward addressing the crime problems at motels.