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Council receives ‘good news’ on local housing rehabilitation efforts

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — City council members on Tuesday received some good news about local efforts to rehabilitate local neighborhoods in the West End as well as the progress with the use of the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Program funds.

One of the two updates included the progress of the West End Housing Rehabilitation program from Salisbury Community Development Director Chanaka Yatawara and Planning Director Hannah Jacobson. The goal of program is revitalize single-family housing units with exterior home repairs in owner-occupied and rental properties. Assistance is provided in the form of a forgivable, deferred loan.

Yatawara said 19 homes were rehabilitated during the 2018-19 fiscal year, 10 homes in the 2019-20 fiscal year and four homes during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Those rehabilitations amount to $612,538.

Exterior renovations include rehabilitation of the roof, gutters, downspouts, foundations, painting and walkways/driveways. Additionally, exterior rehabilitations couldn’t exceed $20,000 and only applied for those who have a household income 120% or lower of the median income. For rented property, exterior renovations couldn’t exceed $12,500, with 25%, or $2,500, matched by landlords.

For loans to be forgiven, homeowners must continue to occupy and own the residence and property for at least five years, while landlords must rent property to low-to-moderate income tenants.

Among the four improvements this year are houses in the 300 block of S. Craige Street, the 400 block of Grim Street, Old Wilkesboro Road and Forney Street.

Additionally, private developers helped revitalize several houses that were ultimately sold. Those houses include 309 Lloyd St., which was sold for $140,000 in September 2019; 112 Lloyd St., which sold for $169,000 in August; 1114 W. Bank St., which sold for $150,000 in July 2019; and 1116 W. Bank St., which sold for $135,000 September.

“The private developers are definitely spending some money,” Yatawara said. “And this is the combination of the housing market and what the city did in this neighborhood that has really got the jumpstart on home ownership here.”

Council member David Post asked if the private developers were local. Yatawara said they were from Charlotte and Cornelius because they’re finding “they can’t fix any houses in that area” and can do this at a lower price in Salisbury.

Chanaka said the city’s action to put in $600,000 toward the program resulted in a couple million dollars worth of private developer funding.

“So, I think this program has really revitalized the neighborhood,” Yatawara said. “I think we’ve seen a really good effect with this funding. We’ve seen private developers and current homeowners fixing up their houses and improving the curb appeal. And several neighbors have told me that the neighborhood has improved since the city of Salisbury started this program.”

Moving forward, Yatawara suggests focusing more on owner-occupied homes because working with landlords was difficult.

Council member Brian Miller said there is a need to get “ahead of the curve” on aging housing stock to keep values up and attract property investors to the area.

“I think we’ve exhausted the pot of money that we have for this purpose on, obviously, fiscal environments more constrained than (they were) when we first envisioned this,” Miller said. “But anything we can do to get or spark the free market to come in and start doing some of these projects would be a good thing.”

Jacobson said there is still some money remaining, and the program will move its efforts to the Park Avenue neighborhood as a complement to the Kesler Mill cleanup scheduled for next year. Letters have been sent to members of the neighborhood already.

“I think a lot of people thought there’s no way this is possible or ‘You’re not going to give me money to do this,’” said council member Tamara Sheffield. “And the proof is there (with) $600,000 and 33 houses. I’m with Brian. If we can keep this thing alive, let’s keep trying to figure it out.”

Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins called this project one of her favorite success stories from the city.

“We need good news like this,” added Mayor Karen Alexander.

Additionally, the council received an update from Salisbury Housing Planner Candace Edwards on the city’s 2019-2020 Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report, or CAPER, on the use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Program funds.

Edwards said the annual budget was $320,017, plus $30,000 in income from the program. To date, a little more than $216,000 of those dollars have been spent, she added.

Edwards outlined the progress on the five goals set for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The first goal included affordable housing and rehabilitation of four existing units. Two owner-occupied rehabilitation projects were completed. Three additional projects were delayed due to the pandemic. Those projects are expected to be completed by the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30.

Examples of the rehabilitation included handicap accessibility, roof replacement, repair of water damage as well as HVAC, plumbing and electrical units brought up to code requirements.

Another goal included improvements of public facilities. To date, 25 households benefited from public infrastructure improvements in the West End neighborhood. Additionally, Edwards said, construction on the West Monroe Street sidewalk project has been completed. There is also new sidewalk between Grim Street and Brenner Avenue, which improves safety for residents and Livingstone College students.

“There was nowhere for pedestrians to walk safely from the school or from that neighborhood to neighboring shopping areas off of Jake Alexander (Boulevard),” Edwards said.

The third goal included improvements to public services. Edwards said 150 people were assisted with public services and homelessness prevention. With the help of funding from the city’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME Program funds, Edwards said 45 clients were helped by Gateway Freedom Center, 1,401 clients were helped by the Community Care Clinic, 287 clients were helped in a two-month period by Rowan Helping Ministries and 74 clients were helped by the Family Crisis Clinic.

The fourth goal of fair housing was interrupted by the pandemic, Edwards said. Until March, the Fair Housing Committee continued to meet and work toward the implementation of the Fair Housing Action Plan. A summit was planned for April, but was canceled. The focus has been on addressing a lack of formalized structure for a local fair housing system.

Moving forward, the committee plans to host a regional fair housing summit next spring.

The fifth goal of implementing a well-manager community development program was achieved by hiring a housing planner, updating program guidelines for owner-occupied rehabs and downpayment assistance, updating sub-recipient contracts to align better with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations.

“I think that we did a lot even through the COVID-19 issues,” said Mayor Karen Alexander.

“In a challenging time frame, you guys still managed to move forward,” council member Tamara Sheffield added.

The presentation was followed by a public hearing period, but no one submitted comments or asked to speak at the meeting. Edwards said the public comment period is open until Dec. 17, and public comments can be submitted to her at candace.edwards@salisburync.gov.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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