Published on October 21st, 2011 | by Todd Smekens0
Discussion on Blight – Part 2
Our discussion on blight continues with part two of the letter written by Brad King, Muncie resident and civic activist who resides in a historic home in the Old West End:
Our discussion on blight continues with part of the letter written by Brad King, Muncie resident and civic activist who resides on the Old West End:
At the beginning the current administration brought in the then mayor of another Midwest, industrial city that is also considered a member of the Rust Belt to discuss their unique approach to a common problem. Jay Williams, previous mayor of Youngstown, Ohio shared with Muncie his plan on urban renewal then titled Youngstown 2010. It basically was demolishing blight, sometimes whole neighborhoods, then bringing in the city closer together, in effect shrinking the city. It seemed like the type of out of the box thinking that was needed. One snag: residents didn’t want to move. They felt a connection to their neighborhoods and were not ready to surrender them. In 2011 only a couple of areas around Youngstown are remaining economically vibrant and people are still waiting to see the redevelopment promised by the Youngstown 2010 plan.
So how can we prevent blight from occurring and what can we do better with blight once it occurs? Unfortunately there is no silver-bullet answer to that question, but just because we can’t deal with blight in a single response doesn’t mean we don’t try to prevent it or we don’t change our response to it. There are a variety of answers available when dealing with blight. None of them are guaranteed successes but none of them are guaranteed failures either.
The common sense approach appears to deal with two problems with one answer: Jobs! If we can lower the unemployment rate, we can create a demand for single-family housing granting opportunity for already blighted structures, and prevention of blighting residential property. Often working families don’t have time to rehabilitate a blighted home, nor the desire to take on a home heading in that direction. The city needs to leverage incentives to entice potential residents to take on blighted properties.
One of those incentives the city is moderately using: federal grant money. There are several grant programs out there for community development and historic preservation that can be used to fight blight; Neighborhood Stabilization Program and HOME Investment Partnerships Program are just a couple. Currently the city has taken some of the money available and restored a few structures in a checkerboard pattern, while using some of the money to demolish properties. There are better ways to leverage that money for community development. The city could offer to take on portions of private restoration of blighted properties and focus other restoration efforts in the immediate areas around blight taken on by private interests. Federal grants often have stipulations that determine how the money can be used, but using the more stipulated grants should free up other money the city has and grant money that has fewer restrictions like community block grants.
There are other ways to fund redevelopment too, especially of brownfield lands. There are funding programs available through Indiana Finance Authority for the remediation of brownfield lands. There is also a recently enacted law that allows communities to track the insurance of the owners and retrieve money from that insurance for remediation of brownfield lands. Cleaning up brownfield lands is a great incentive towards businesses looking to in-source in Muncie.