No Excuse For Unspent Money

More substandard housing in Jamestown will be demolished this year than in previous years after the city included more demolition money in its Community Development Block Grant application to the federal government.

That’s a good step, according to a neighborhood plan passed by the City Council in 2010 after a citywide analysis of Jamestown houses by consultant Charles Buki.

Vince DeJoy, city development director, is right to include more money for demolition in the CDBG budget this year – particularly if that money will be spent in areas of the city Buki termed strong census tracts. Removing the 2.5 percent of poor housing in those areas could add $24 million in value to the surrounding properties – a strong argument for adding demolition money to the CDBG budget.

Buki also delivers a strong case for the city’s rental rehabilitation program. The city isn’t adding money to that program this year in the CDBG program, but the fault isn’t DeJoy’s. He didn’t need to include additional money because previously programmed money hasn’t been spent yet – and the fault for that lies with landlords who either aren’t aware of the program or landlords with substandard housing who don’t care about fixing their properties.

So, let’s refresh some of the high points of Buki’s thoughts about rental housing in Jamestown. The older residential properties that make up much of the city’s rental stock are expensive to maintain, meaning landlords begin the process struggling to make money. If they aren’t making money, they aren’t fixing regular wear-and-tear damage to homes that are rented. Over time, the value is bled out of properties before all that is left is an empty shell that ends up on a demolition list, all the while sapping the value from surrounding homes. Homes near poorly maintained rental property can lose tens of thousands of dollars in value.

We can understand the financial pressures on some city landlords. At the same time, we’re incredulous that a place facing as many housing maintenance issues as Jamestown does can’t find willing landlords to help spend grant money. It is a profound statement when one of DeJoy’s goals for the year is to solicit landlords willing to take his citywide rental rehabilitation money.

In many cases, money is a problem when it comes to fixing Jamestown’s massive housing problem. The city can’t fix the whole rental housing problem with the money it has, but the city is willing to start.

It just needs a few good landlords to participate.