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Huntington, state to get help with abandoned properties problem

By LINDA HARRIS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A national nonprofit that helps communities figure out how to address their problems with abandoned and dilapidated structures is coming to Huntington.

The Michigan-based Center for Community Progress is partnering with city officials to host a series of community meetings to learn how vacant, abandoned and dilapidated buildings are affecting residents in three Huntington communities — Fairfield, Highlawn and the West End.

The meetings are part of a technical assistance scholarship that the City of Huntington received from the Center for Community Progress. Huntington was one of only three communities — the other two are Albany, N.Y., and Memphis, TN — across the nation to receive a scholarship this year, joining Albany, N.Y., and Memphis, TN. Because of it, the city will receive up to 400 hours of assistance, free of charge, from the team of national experts through November.

Huntington officials say the CPP experts will help them figure out how vacant and dilapidated properties are impacting the city and its residents, then share best practices developed through TASP with its national audience.

“It’s their first time in West Virginia,” said Christal Perry, coordinator of HURA’s Land Bank. “They work with cities to get new legislation, they look and see if cities need help getting started with vacant and abandoned property.”

Scott Lemley, director of Planning and Development, said there are about 350 properties already on the city’s list of unsafe and dilapidated structures, though that number “could easily” top 500. Perry said CCP is going to “look at the economic and human cost” of the vacant and dilapidated properties on the books consuming city resources without returning any benefit to the community.

“We can put a dollar amount on the economic cost of the vacancies … calls for police and firefighters, property taxes that aren’t paid … but the human cost, we kind of miss that,” she added. “What the program is going to do is help us collect all this information in a way our state legislators can understand. Then it’s not just the opinion of some people in Huntington or Charleston that there’s a problem, they’ll be able to see it’s a state problem and a nationwide problem. We need to be able to give them numbers, the facts and figures.”

Assistance may include a diagnosis of the most pressing problems, evaluation of current systems and strategies, and recommendations on solutions that involve key government decision-makers, residents, and other stakeholders, they said.

In Huntington, they’ll focus on delinquent tax enforcement systems, public safety, and neighborhood stabilization. The goal is to raise awareness among rural communities seeking to better understand the costs of, and solutions for, vacancy and abandonment in West Virginia and beyond.

Perry sees it as a chance to create a blueprint for other communities in the Mountain State.

“We’re hoping to get a curriculum that can be followed throughout the state to address vacant and abandoned properties and so the Legislature can see we need help in addressing those,” Perry said.

The three scholarship cities were chosen through a competitive process, which included a written application round followed by an in-person site assessment for five finalists. Proposed projects were reviewed on a range of criteria, including the potential for innovation from which other cities can learn, demonstrated leadership to implement reform, overall scale of vacancy challenges, and need for outside assistance.

The program is funded by a grant from JPMorgan Chase.

The community meetings will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, at New Baptist Church in Highlawn; from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, at the Marie Redd Center in the Fairfield neighborhood; and from noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12 at Central United Methodist Church in Huntington’s West End.

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