FEDERAL PROGRAM GIVES NEIGHBORHOODS HOPE
A great article about our friends in Classen Ten Penn:
Oklahoma City receives $8.6 million to rehabilitate areas hit by foreclosures
FEDERAL PROGRAM GIVES NEIGHBORHOODS HOPE
BY STEVE LACKMEYER
Published: January 25, 2009
Rick McAuliffe has seen good times — and a lot of bad times — in his Classen-10-Penn neighborhood since he first bought his home 27 years ago.
For a while, McAuliffe said, Classen-10-Penn had the city’s highest crime rate. Poverty is no stranger to the area either.
And yet, McAuliffe insists, the community remains intact. Hope pervades, and McAuliffe is hoping his neighborhood will be chosen for a new federal program that will provide the city with $8.6 million to buy vacant foreclosed houses, rehabilitate them, and then turn them over to families who will make them their homes.
Planning Director Russell Claus, who is overseeing the program, is looking at a rapid schedule dictated by theDepartment of Housing and Urban Development; the city had just a couple weeks to prepare an application before the Dec. 1 deadline, and then received approval earlier this month. The money will be allocated on Feb. 13.
“It’s been very quick, and there has to be a quick performance,” Claus said. “We have 18 months to commit all the funds. We’re pretty confident — I’ve got a good crew, we’ve got good partners we’ve been in contact with. We should be able to run pretty quickly with this.”
Many questions remain. The program requires the city to use the money in neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures and subprime lending.The city must also identify qualifying homes and then negotiate purchases from mortgage holders at 15 percent below appraised value.
Claus’ department has identified an 8-mile stretch in the inner-city that includes Classen-10-Penn, Linnwood, Oak Cliff and Crestwood neighborhoods. The next step, Claus said, is to figure out where the city can make the greatest impact and whether banks will negotiate.
Estimates show foreclosures in Oklahoma City were up 35 percent over the past three years, though the most recent reports show the increase even higher.
“That’s still nothing like what’s going on elsewhere in the country, but it’s still significant,” Claus said. “But since we’re not as hard hit as California or Florida, some banks may want to ride this out and see if it gets any worse here.”
The goal, Claus said, is to rescue neighborhoods that still are communities — and to trim the current foreclosed property market by 20 percent. Claus applauded Congress for passing the legislation last summer as a way to directly combat the aftermath of disastrous sub-prime loans that left many homeowners with mortgages they couldn’t afford.
“A vacant home is like a cavity,” Claus said. “If you don’t address it, it can spread to the rest of your mouth. Whenever you have a home vacant, if a person is looking to relocate into that neighborhood, they’ll have concerns about that home not being occupied. It can be a problem with maintenance; it leads it to being open to vandalism and kids getting in. A home by itself may not be a problem, but a string of them can lead to all sorts of difficulties.”
The program is also being welcomed by the Oklahoma City Neighborhood Alliance.”We know that home ownership is the No. 1 thing that brings up a neighborhood,” saidGeorgie Rasco, executive director. “When you have homeowners, they take pride in their property, they get to know their neighbors, and you have an all-around safer environment where home ownership is higher than rental rates.”
Rasco said she hopes the foreclosure program might reduce the number of homes owned by out-of-state owners who never even see their investments.
“We have a problem with that — more than a majority of these owners in some neighborhoods are from California or out east,” Rasco said. “They are in it to make money, and they don’t care about the homes or the neighborhood.”
Rasco said the Classen-10-Penn neighborhood is a great target.
“There are wonderful old homes there worth saving that were bought up by a lot of these out-of-state landlords,” Rasco said. “And either the bottom fell out or they couldn’t flip them, and now they’ve been left vacant. If the city can go back in and bring families back into the area, we have a strong case for families to move back in.”
McAuliffe, meanwhile, is filled with hope already, impressed with another recent city effort to crack down on crime. He’s also working with the city to add more lighting to areas that were once draws for prostitutes and drug dealers. He applauds recent renovation efforts by Plaza district developer Jeff Struble and sees the influx of Hispanic families as a plus for the neighborhood.”This whole neighborhood has always been a melting pot,” McAuliffe said. “The Hispanic community is out here now, fixing up their homes, taking pride in them. These guys get out, they do their brick work together, and then they go the other guy’s house, fix a roof, and then they gather in the park and play volleyball.”
McAuliffe hopes more families will follow with the help of the city’s investment — and looks forward to seeing more wedding ceremonies and block suppers in the future.
Such sense of community is what the city is looking for. Claus just hopes the investment will be enough to avoid the damage done when the city and state were plunged into an economic depression in the 1980s.
“When you get disinvestment, people leave, property values are gone,” Claus said. “You don’t have a community any longer. And recreating a community is very difficult in an existing neighborhood. We’re still dealing with the impact of the 1980s oil bust and we probably will be for decades to come. It did some serious lasting damage.”