Q: Why is the City leading the revitalization effort in East, North, and Northwest neighborhoods? Shouldn’t this be done by the private sector?
A: The neighborhood decline and disinvestment in these neighborhoods has happened slowly over several decades, with little to no investment by the private sector. At the request of community leaders, the City stepped in, as the interim master developer to jumpstart revitalization and create opportunities for private investment in these neighborhoods. On an interim basis the City will use their procurement process to select builders, developers, contractors, engineers, architects, and others to work on priority projects within the revitalization areas.
Q: What is the funding for the neighborhood revitalization being spent on?
A: Initially, funding has been used for planning and design, including conducting a market analysis to decide where to concentrate development activity, drawing up a master plan, developing design guidelines and creating a marketing strategy. That’s all important foundation work, necessary before any neighborhood revitalization begins. Currently, funds are being used for acquisition of vacant lots and houses that are problem properties. In some instances, owners of occupied property have indicated that they would like to sell their property. We are not targeting the acquisition of occupied property as a priority. Once a sufficient number of vacant properties are acquired, funding will be used to help with construction loans, rehab of owner occupied properties, and down payment assistance for homebuyers.
Q: What progress has been made to date?
A: It takes time to turn around years of neglect and disinvestment. While no visible signs of redevelopment, such as new homes can be seen, many unseen steps had to be taken to set the revitalization plan in motion. Over the past 2 to 3 years, the City of Florence has developed a master plan and development guidelines for the target neighborhood areas, drafted financial incentives program for builders and home buyers, began the preparation of new house plans, and started work on a marketing strategy to promote the overall effort. The City has also been busy acquiring and assembling land in priority development areas. The City’s approach is to purchase property rather than to take land by eminent domain, and this process—which includes third-party appraisals to assess fair market value—requires care and patience. And before the acquisition process even begins, the City works with property owners to encourage them to keep their property and invest in improvements. All of these activities take time.
Q: Isn’t the revitalization of these target neighborhood going to result in gentrification, with current residents and people looking for affordable housing pushed out of the neighborhood?
A: Gentrification is always a cause for concern, but the large number of vacant buildings and vacant lots provides ample space for a range of housing types and prices. A good example is the City’s focus on developing vacant lots in each of the three target neighborhoods (East, North Florence, Northwest Florence) while at the same time working with existing homeowners who are interested in reinvesting in their homes. When built out, single family home prices in developments targeted for the Vista, Sumter, and Pine Street areas are expected to start in the low $100,000’s and the City will provide financial assistance to make these homes affordable for a broad segment of the market. Currently none of the proposed developments include rental property. The overall objective for City of Florence neighborhood redevelopment came out months of meetings with the community.
Q: Won’t the emphasis on affordable housing result in further “lower income households” in neighborhoods already struggling to survive?
A: The vision and plan for the target neighborhood in East, Northwest, and North Florence is to provide a strong mix of single-family housing types to address a broad range of market needs and demands. In addition, the City will offer assistance to existing homeowners to improve their properties and help reduce blighted conditions.
Q: Why is the City using outside consultants?
A: The City has hired APD Urban Planning & Management to assist with the neighborhood revitalization: 1) to assist with land planning, property acquisition and project management, and 2) to create and implement a marketing strategy. Beyond this firm, all other companies assisting with the revitalization (developers, builders, architects, engineers, realtors) are expected to be local and go through the competitive procurement process and compete for various projects as they become viable. Each firm selected to do work in this project will be “pre-qualified,” meaning they meet the standards established for various jobs associated with the redevelopment effort.
Q: Will any of the work to be done on this project be done by minority builders and contractors?
A: We anticipate a significant amount of the work to be done by minority contractors. Efforts will be made to identify qualified contractors and we are currently working on ways to help small builders and contractors to arrange construction financing. .
Q: How long will it take to build houses?
A: It is anticipated that we will only build 2 to 3 house at a time unless they are pre-sold. Even if we had an environment in which numerous houses could be built all at once, that wouldn’t be desirable. Given the recent economic recession, it would be bad for all concerned to have a lot of completed houses standing vacant. We anticipate that the pace of construction, while on the conservative side, will help insure the overall success of the revitalization project. Other factors that will contribute to the pace of construction include a deliberate land-acquisition process and our ability to pre-sale homes even before construction starts.
Q: What is the City doing to address crime in the area?
A: Part of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative for each of the three target neighborhoods is to increase code enforcement initiatives that should result in demolishing more vacant buildings, which contributes to crime. In addition, the City will work with existing community organizations to form blocks clubs and other forms of neighborhood-based organizations to help police to identify crime hot spots. Crime in the three target neighborhoods, while not incident-free, is not as bad as the news media and other portray it to be. We are confident that crime in these neighborhoods will be reduced.
- What is the City doing about infrastructure improvements?
- You may have already seen streets being repaved and new sidewalks be install in neighborhoods throughout the city. Many of these infrastructure improvements are targeted for neighborhood areas where they City’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is targeted. The funding for the infrastructure improvements is coming from the 1 cent sales tax that was passed several years ago.
Q: What kind of assistance will be available for purchasing a new home in the target neighborhood areas?
A: For a limited time, the City of Florence will help with closing costs, and down payment costs. A potential buyer needs to come to the table with two things in hand: 1) the capacity to qualify for a mortgage equal to the purchase price of the home minus the subsidy assistance, and 2) the ability to provide at least $1,000 upon purchase of the home. The specific amount of this incentive depends upon the financial capacity of the purchaser. More details will be available in the first quarter of 2017.
Q: What other types of financial incentives will the City provide for development activity in the target neighborhoods?
A: The City is considering a broad range of incentives for development activity to encourage builders and developers to build new homes in the target neighborhoods. Specific programs and how to qualify will be announced in the first quarter of 2017.
Q: Who provides financial oversight of expenditures on public money used for the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative?
A: The City Council has authorized the City Manager’s office to spend approximately $3 million on the revitalization effort.
Q: How will I know if the City is interested in acquiring my property?
A: The City has developed a map of the target neighborhood areas that indicates the location of vacant houses and vacant lots. Vacant properties are identified public information is obtained from the Tax Commissioner’s office regarding property ownership. The City has retained a realtor to who will send you a Letter of Interest (LOI) via regular mail, notifying you of the City’s interest in acquiring your property. This LOI informs the owner that the City must conduct an appraisal of the property to establish fair market value, and that the owner has the right to accompany the appraiser. The LOI will also provide contact information for the appraiser. Once the LOI is sent, the City acquisition agent will contact the owner and begin to make initial determinations regarding the level of interest and terms of the purchase.
Q: If the City wants acquires my property, how will it determine how much to offer me for my property?
A: Before making an offer, the City will obtain an appraisal of your property by an independent, competent real property appraiser who is familiar with local property values. The appraiser will inspect your property and prepare a report that includes his or her professional opinion of its current fair market value. The City will then make you an offer of just compensation based on the appraised value.
Q: How will the City’s neighborhood revitalization project affect the Fair Market Value of my property?
A: It should not affect the Fair Market Value. Appraisers must conform to specific appraisal standards. The appraiser has to disregard any decrease or increase in the market value of the real property caused by the project for which the property is to be acquired.
Q: What should I do if I receive a letter from the appraiser that states that I do not have to be at home during the appraisal process?
A: The appraisers will contact and give the owner an opportunity to accompany him or her when inspecting the property. If the owner is unable to meet with the appraiser, the owner has a choice and may wish to have a person who is familiar with the property represent him or her. In the event the owner does not want to let the appraisers in the property, the appraisers will still conduct their appraisal of the property and will note in their report that the interior was not inspected. At any given time, the owner may inform the appraiser(s) of any special features that he or she believes may add to the value of the property.
Q: What if I am not happy with the amount offered and I don’t agree to the purchase offer?
A: You are entitled to present your evidence as to the amount you believe is the fair market value of your property and to make suggestions for changing the terms and conditions of the offer. The City will consider your evidence and suggestions. If fully justified by the available evidence of value, the offer price may be adjusted. The City will not use Eminent Domain to acquire any property.
Q: How long does the property acquisition process take?
A: Property acquisition takes approximately 3 to 4 months, and sometimes longer, from the date a property is placed under contract to purchase. It will take longer if there are problems with the property title or liens or a mortgage that exceed the appraised value.
PRIORITY TARGET NEIGHBOROOD AREAS
Q: Whom do I talk to about purchasing a home in any of the target neighborhood areas?
A: The City has not selected a realtor to provide real estate marketing services at this time. If you, or if you know someone, that may be interested in purchasing a new home located in one of our target neighborhoods, he or she can contact Retha Brown at 843-665-3175 and be placed on an inquiry list. During the first quarter of 2017, information will be available on the new homes and how they can be purchased.
Q: Whom do I talk to about renting a home in the any of the target neighborhood areas?
A: At the present time the City’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative does not include the development of any rental property.
Q: How will the City maintain the property it is acquiring before development starts?
A: The City has a property maintenance crew available that has been assigned the responsibility of boarding vacant homes and cutting grass at vacant lots for any property purchased by the City.
Q: What is the first area that we can expect to see new homes built?
A: The Vista Street area in North Florence will be the first target neighborhood where new homes will be built as part of this neighborhood initiative. We expect that construction will start in the first quarter of 2017. The initial development will consist of 3 to 4 homes near the new school.