Another swing at the scourge of the city | Editorials

The Urban Homestead program is not the first attempt to invest money in dilapidated and vacant buildings in St. Joseph.

Like downtown renewal and waterfront development, many plans have been launched over the years to tackle the dreaded problem of dilapidated properties that cover the west side of St. Joseph. This is a problem that has existed for years. This results in decreased property values, fire risk and loss of community pride. With more than 450 vacant buildings in Saint-Joseph, it sometimes seems difficult to know where to start.

We have seen many hopeful ideas, such as a land bank that was set up in 2019 to proactively acquire dilapidated properties and return them to private use. By the end of 2021, five properties had been acquired.

Now, the St. Joseph City Council wants to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to create an Urban Homestead program. The board approved an ordinance to create the program at its March 7 meeting.

Documents show that this latest move would allow the city to purchase vacant structures that violate property maintenance codes and are in arrears. The property would then be sold to “homesteaders” interested in revitalizing the neighborhoods. These buyers could make repairs with the help of a subsidy.

Approximately $2 million in American Rescue Act funding has been set aside for neighborhood revitalization.

By establishing an urban farm program, the city is advancing an initiative akin to the land bank, which has proven extremely slow if not well-intentioned since its launch.

Perhaps the Land Bank showed that our expectations were unrealistic when it came to St. Joseph’s problem with vacant buildings. In hindsight, it was easy to take an all-or-nothing approach to determining success or failure.

Either something solves the problem and turns St. Joseph into the Paris of the Midwest, or it’s an absolute failure.

In truth, success is slow and piecemeal when it comes to tackling such a large and geographically widespread problem. A look at some neighborhoods will show impressive revitalization on one block and horror on the next. Progress goes hand in hand with maddening bureaucratic delays and inertia.

But it’s better than not trying. The Urban Homestead program appears to be a good use of stimulus funds. For this persistent problem, federal funds and patience might be needed in large amounts.

A decades-long problem won’t be solved with a single allocation of coronavirus stimulus funding. But it’s a start.

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