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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

LCRA: Progress - one house at a time

Sunday, September 14, 2008

(Photo)
Councilman Jim Terrell, left, looks over a condemned home on Daniel Street during a tour with Trey Hardy, community redevelopment coordinator. Sikeston City Council members are looking over condemned houses to reach a consensus on which ones can be rehabilitated and which should be made a priority for demolition. Scott Welton, Staff
SIKESTON -- Sikeston's list of 186 condemned properties may be alarming to some but city officials say it indicates progress.

"When we established the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority, we targeted those homes that weren't meeting code and got aggressive with a redevelopment plan for the LCRA area," said City Manager Doug Friend. "That's where the majority of the condemned houses are."

The urban development firm hired by the city to help establish the LCRA selected an area for the LCRA to initially focus on based on a "blighting study" conducted in 2002. This LCRA target area is roughly bounded by Compress and Tanner on the north end, Murray Lane on the south end, the Pin Oak Subdivision and Malcolm on the west side, and just east of South Main on the east side.

The number of condemned properties appears exceptionally high when compared with Cape Girardeau's 40 or Poplar Bluff's 15 but these comparisons are not really "apples to apples," Friend said.

"We have an active LCRA plan where these other communities don't," he said.

With an active and well-funded LCRA, "you are going to get a more aggressive plan and higher housing quality," Friend said. "The idea is to go in, clean it up and redevelop."

The goal, he said, is to end up with owner-occupied housing.

Of those 186 condemned properties, only 25 are outside the LCRA area, according to Trey Hardy, community redevelopment coordinator.

"The LCRAs were a product of urban renewal in the late '60s into the early '70s," Friend said. "Large urban areas went through it back then. We did not jump on board and establish an LCRA until six or seven years ago so we are doing now what many communities tried to do 20 years ago."

There are three avenues by which Sikeston properties end up being condemned.

In addition to those within the LCRA target area, properties outside the LCRA target are condemned by code officers while other properties are condemned for health and safety issues. Structures condemned for health and safety issues are those which appear on the city's "Top 10" list, Hardy noted.

Among the 186 condemned properties, "a lot of those are vacant lots," Friend said. "The LCRA is trying to obtain them through the condemnation process."

Hardy confirmed around 25 are vacant lots "in some sort of process of acquisition." Many of the lots are vacant due to LCRA action in removing dilapidated structures, he noted.

Friend said another reason the number of condemned structures in Sikeston is so high is that the city was hit harder than many other communities in the area by foreclosures from inflated mortgages.

With these foreclosures resulting in the evictions of renters, the city ended up with even more unoccupied structures. "And we have been checking the quality of the housing upon it being vacated," Hardy said.

The city's code enforcement officers "have built a very good rapport with some of the tenants," Hardy said, which provides city officials with detailed information about housing quality.

While the list of condemned properties is long, both the city and the LCRA are making headway, according to Hardy.

"Since its inception, the LCRA has taken down 129 properties," Hardy said. "The first LCRA demolition list had 32 -- that was a single bid back in 2005."

Hardy said there have been 96 demolition permits issued in the last 16 months, 54 of which were the LCRA's and 10 of which were the city's.

"The other 32 could be anything from taking down a shed to taking down a fence," Hardy said. "Some of those were probably done by code enforcement action but the owners took them down themselves."

There are also 15 structures slated for demolition through code enforcement condemnation, according to Hardy.

The LCRA also sold two structures for rehabilitation in addition to 10 empty lots over the last 16 months. "Two of those lots were sold to the Habitat for Humanity," Hardy said.

The bottom line, he said, is that the city's efforts are resulting in better housing and higher property values for the city's residents.

"There has not been a single case of a person that was displaced by a LCRA or city action," Hardy said.