An appropriate path to cleanup cash

It would cost somewhere between $300,000 and $900,000 to eliminate abandoned houses in Henderson (an estimated 150 houses at $2,000 to $6,000 apiece). After a work session Tuesday morning, the Clean Up Henderson Committee has a strategy for getting some or all of that money in Raleigh.

The city has demolished 12 abandoned houses since July 1, cleanup committee Chairwoman Lynn Harper said, but only three or four of those were voluntary. When a property owner agrees to have his dilapidated building razed by the city, that owner also agrees to pay the cost. In cases of involuntary demolitions, the city places a tax lien on the property, but the county tax office struggles to collect those liens. Code Compliance Director Corey Williams said last week that $80,000 in such liens are outstanding.

Williams is ready to take down more houses, but he has exhausted his budget for contracted services. The city has an unbudgeted $6,000 coming to it as a partial settlement of a bankruptcy case involving the city’s former worker’s compensation insurance carrier, and City Manager Eric Williams proposed Thursday that Henderson appropriate that money for the Code Enforcement Department.

The City Council’s Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee delayed action on that money after council member John Wester complained that the proper procedure — collecting the money, then deciding whether to leave it in the fund balance or spend it on any of the many needs in the city — was being short-circuited.

Harper, nonprofit activist Andrea Harris, Police Chief Glen Allen, committee member Diane Barberio, and concerned citizens Warren Hare and Horace Bullock tackled the code enforcement funding problem during a 90-minute meeting at the police station Tuesday.

They discussed banks’ responsibility under the Community Reinvestment Act; the chance for help from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has consultants examining Henderson; the use of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant funding and other money from the state Division of Community Assistance; the creation of a local investment fund that lend money to buy and to rehabilitate houses; the need for more aggression from the Vance County Tax Office; and the possibility of pushing the congressional delegation for special appropriations.

The main focus was the bid for state money as the next step in the committee’s quest to rehabilitate or demolish all of the abandoned structures blighting the city and to take steps to prevent more houses from falling into a dilapidated state.

Harris, the most experienced hand in the group at lobbying state officials, said Henderson needs to leverage its many negatives, starting with its situation as the seat of the county with the highest unemployment rate in North Carolina. “I don’t think we have used those to our advantage,” she said. “We could push some agencies to give us a little priority in this community.”

Harper said the drive to demolish abandoned houses is just a stopgap measure that won’t mean a thing if the city doesn’t use the opportunity to rehabilitate neighborhoods. She called for the city to seize cleared lots through foreclosure when the property owners make no effort to pay the tax liens. The result would be a city land bank, she said, allowing Henderson to combine undersize lots and to start from scratch in areas such as Lamb Street and Orange Street. “If it’s past due a year, take them in.”

The consensus was that Henderson should ask its state legislators to dedicate as much as $5 million in an appropriations bill for the Department of Commerce to the statewide problem of aging, dilapidated houses. The key would be the inclusion of language in the bill that limited the money to cities with Henderson’s mix of woes, such as a rural location, a population under 50,000, an unemployment rate of 10 percent or more, and rental housing outnumbering owner-occupied homes.

Harris also won support for a recommendation that the cleanup committee seek state seed money for a loan pool that would offer low-rate mortgages to people with less-than-pristine credit scores, would finance owner-occupants’ rehabilitation efforts, and would help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. If people failed to repay the loans, the property would revert to the city’s land bank. Ideally, the state seed money would draw contributions from banks looking to meet their community service obligations.

The focus should remain on owner-occupants, Allen said, because resident homeowners tend to take better care of their property and to abide by the law better than renters. He also noted that the effort to replace abandoned houses with new owner-occupants would shore up the property tax base.

Tuesday’s session came one week before state Rep. Michael Wray was due to welcome cleanup advocates in Raleigh for a discussion of funding needs, but that meeting likely will be postponed. Harper plans to join a city lobbying trip to Washington next Tuesday, which figures to be a busy day in the General Assembly because it’s the deadline for senators to file local-interest legislation.

Because the cleanup committee’s interest now is in funding and not policy, Harris assured Harper, the deadline for local legislation is irrelevant. Henderson just needs to make its requests early enough to earn a spot in appropriations bills.ringtones 3390absolutely ringtones free realringtone free nokia 6610mario 100 theme free ringtonelg adding chocolate ringtonesringtones 007ringtones absolutely nextel freeaaron harrington wa Map