East Spencer aldermen approve revitalization block grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

EAST SPENCER — The Board of Aldermen took steps Monday toward its goal of increasing homeownership in the town, and revitalizing some problem areas in the process.

The board approved a $271,000 application for federal Community Development Block Grant revitalization funds and agreed to spend as much as $19,929 for several abandoned houses and an empty lot.

The town also intends to apply for a $228,000 Community Development Block Grant for housing development in early 2007 and expects to receive $162,000 in federal economic development grants over the next two years, according to the grant application.

The grant, if approved, would be part of a potential $6 million redevelopment of the area around the Paul Laurence Dunbar Center. A Washington couple bought the center with plans to refurbish and develop it.

Through the Dunbar Renaissance Village Redevelopment Project, the town would buy up lots and vacant houses, renovating and reselling some and demolishing others to make way for new homes. East Spencer officials hope to create affordable housing and make the gateway from Salisbury into town more attractive.

East Spencer officials have created a housing development corporation and are discussing a partnership with the Goler Community Development Corp., which is overseeing a similar community redevelopment project on a much larger scale in Winston-Salem.

With the federal grant money and $45,000 in matching local funds, town officials propose to buy a dozen vacant houses and seven vacant lots, mainly along South Long Street and Robin Circle, demolish nine of the houses and rehabilitate three of them. As a result, the town hopes to create 15 new affordable opportunities for homebuyers and increase its tax base.

Board members also voted Monday to buy four vacant houses and one lot in various locations that have been foreclosed on by the county for non-payment of property taxes. Town Administrator Richard Hunter said some of the houses can be repaired and sold, providing an infusion of cash into the town’s housing development corporation.

“These are in various stages of repair and disrepair,” he said.

Board member Phronice Johnson estimated the town has about 90 vacant houses and asked if East Spencer is “going to buy them all up and rehab them?” She said some of the houses are in good shape, but residents are moving away to escape the town’s high water rates.

Town attorney Vernon Russell said the town has had to set its water rates high to offset the lack of property taxes, mainly because of those vacant houses. Bringing in more homeowners, he said, would increase tax collections and allow the town to scale back its water rates.

Johnson moved to buy the properties “since we’re going to refurbish these houses and bring in some citizens.”

In other business, the board approved the purchase of about 1 acre of land for the town’s new public safety center. Hunter said an appraisal report hadn’t been delivered yet, so he asked board members to approved the purchase without knowing the cost, but promised to provide them with appraisal before he made an offer on the land.