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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A: 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.