As I understand it, you believe that the market will solve the problem of run-down houses in Carbondale, and your concern with Sheila Simon's proposal is that additional set of red tape and fees would be a disincentive businesses to locate in Carbondale.This is a well reasoned set of ideas, but at the most fundamental level I don't agree with your conclusions.
I don't agree with the first belief. Once a landlord owns a property outright, a bad landlord can charge way less than everyone else and still make a nice profit. In most parts of Carbondale, property values are low enough that a landlord doesn't have to be all that wealthy to own properties outright, so it isn't that hard to be a bad landlord. All he has to do is find the student who is naïve enough to believe his unwritten, verbal promises about the repairs that are going to happen and clueless enough to not check around the Web for complaints about the landlord. In a student housing market that turns over every few years, it isn't too hard to find that naïve student. Instead of sitting empty, that house in bad shape is occupied with a poor student who learned a lesson the hard way. Yes, the bad landlord could make a lot more money by charging market rates and maintaining his building, but he's lazy and thinks of the rentals as passive income rather than as a business. Perhaps a more ambitious landlord will buy the lazy landlord out and create better housing in the area, but the market doesn't guarantee that outcome, and it certainly doesn't guarantee that the buyout before the building becomes an eyesore.
What about Sheila Simon's proposal? It would fall on all landlords, both good and bad. In some ways it could hurt the good landlord more. While the good landlord calls the tenants in advance to let them know that the inspector is coming, the bad landlord just shows up one day with an inspector. While the good landlord walks around with the inspector to find out exactly what the inspector looks for and what remedies the city considers acceptable, the bad landlord chats with his friends on his cell phone. Although the inspection is a hassle for both landlords, the good landlord has a lot more extra work than the bad landlord who just pays his fine and does minimal repairs.
Since it is in the city's interests to avoid blighted properties, it is sensible to do something to prevent them rather than paying off property owners after the blight. Perhaps Sheila Simon's proposal isn't the best way to prevent blight, but doing nothing isn't either.
One thing that I've thought of is to make inspection worth more to the landlord than just avoiding a fine. Restaurants in southern California prominently display a simple letter grade that they get from the health inspector. Restaurants with poor letter grades lose business. Should rental properties in Carbondale prominently display their ratings from the building inspector? Would that be enough to keep the naïve student from renting the cheap apartment from the bad landlord?
Here is what we agree on, that Capitalism is imperfect and sometimes doesn't give us the results we want (though using great effort really helps). Then we part ways, you are in essence claiming that the Carbondale City Government can be run in an almost perfect way, so the results of the city government are better then capitalism. Think about this carefully and give me some examples, I'm going to claim now that there are very, very few instances where government performs better then capitalism.
Where I do think that there should be rules and our rules is one of the reasons you should live in Carbondale instead of right outside of town. For example, you will not have a Super Walmart appear in your back yard because of our zoning laws. There are almost no fires in the City of Carbondale, because of the construction inspections. OK, so we are together there.
Carbondale is a small town and the laws are enforced unevenly, on a historical basis. For example, there is a funeral parlor that has built a crematorium, without permits and inside the setback, in the back yards of "THE ARBOR DISTRICT". The state plumbing inspector is well known to be corrupt and punishing outsiders with expensive plumbing work (or he could just be getting kickbacks from the plumbers, I can't quite figure that one out). Under Neil Dillard (and Tom Redmond, Sheila's campaign manager), the city hall zoning department did their best to stop every business project in town through negative readings of the rules, poor communication and generally being obstructionists. You are right, that when Brad became mayor the zoning problems was greatly eased, it is amazing what a little management can do.
Another problem is that you are making assumptions about what is better for the city based on very limited information. So you don't like seeing unkempt (got to love spell checkers, I didn't know how to spell that word before) yards and houses that are less then perfect, that is just to darn bad isn't it? That isn't against the law anywhere in this country, but it can be enforced by contract by home owner's association's and the like. Doing building inspections weekly isn't going to change the cosmetic appearance of these buildings.
Some rental units in this town are empty and the students are choosing to live in beat up houses, could it be that those students know what they want better then you do? Could it be that the students don't need the city's noble protection? If SIU had 25,000 students, then maybe this would be different, or maybe not? Are these students dieing or being injured by living in these old houses? No more then the students living in apartments and dorms I bet.
If Carbondale really needed another army of inspectors there would be warning signs, for example we might see lots of fires? Lawsuits from students who have fallen through their floors or the like? Does anyone see that?
As usual, as politicians start their 100 meetings with their committees and constituency groups, the business world has taken action. The worst rental houses in Carbondale are being torn down and replaced or fixed up (does anyone want to jump into this and say this isn't happening?). While politicians talk, the business world has already jumped.
One of my frustrations with professors, state employees and other people in the public sector in Carbondale is you guys have been on the reservation to long. The USA is a incredibly efficient capitalist machine. Capitalism isn't perfect, but it is better then all of the options. So many people in Carbondale and Illinois don't honestly look at results of this huge government machine we have made (and their trailing costs). I guess, if you are part of the system it is hard to admit there is a system wide problem. More government isn't the answer, we have plenty already.