State News

Fayetteville program aims to repair homes, end blight

Posted September 17

— Walter Ray is fixing up a white stucco house he hopes to rent in Bonnie Doone, one of Fayetteville's poorer communities with its share of crime.

Last month, the Fayetteville City Council chose two communities — Bonnie Doone off Bragg Boulevard and the B Street area just south of downtown — to be the recipients of a new city program that aims to demolish an estimated 21 dilapidated houses and make exterior repairs to 27 others.

Ray, a 70-year-old Army veteran, said Bonnie Doone needs the city's help.

"This overall area needs to be revitalized," said Ray, sipping a can of tomato juice while workers caulk window sills on the house.

Bonnie Doone, which sprung up to house soldiers during World War II, is a transient community with short streets. Some of the clapboard homes have bars over the windows and doors, and others have window air conditioners.

The city staff had presented six communities and asked the council to pick one, with the idea of targeting one area over the next several years.

"One of the issues that we have is the needs are great throughout the city," Victor Sharpe, the city's Community Development director, told council members last month.

The program, which relies on a reallocation of federal Community Development dollars, has a $353,000 budget this fiscal year.

But in a compromise, the council voted 6-4 in August to pick two areas, splitting the money.

Uta Batts, a 36-year-old who rents a duplex apartment in Bonnie Doone, welcomed the newfound city program. Although her landlord maintains her rental well, she said, others in the neighborhood don't.

"From looking outside, they need some help," Batts said.

By the city's count, Bonnie Doone has five boarded houses, 39 structures that should be razed and 66 that are occupied but need repairs or new paint.

Ray plans to paint the inside of the three-bedroom house, replace some of the Sheetrock and front windows. He once lived in it, paying $550 in monthly rent.

"I'm just trying to get it fixed where I can rent it," Ray said.

Across town, the B Street homes are clustered between Person and Grove streets. Many of the houses were built before 1950. The area was the target of the city's intensive policing neighborhood pilot program in 2008.

The neighborhood has an active community watch, a coalition that includes several outside agencies, new police surveillance cameras and is in the vicinity of important new developments, including new public housing on nearby Old Wilmington Road. The city's housing authority plans to demolish and replace Grove View Terrace apartments, a block from B Street. And farther south on Person Street, the city will build a river park.

And the Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity plans to expand its program into B Street in the coming years when additional funding becomes available. Its vice president of neighborhood revitalization, Michael Pennink, said he was glad the city chose B Street.

"Without knowing all of the details, we are looking forward to hearing about the implementation of it and working with the city to make a positive change in B Street," Pennink said.

Unlike other Community Development programs for housing repairs, this one will be made available to renter-occupied homes as well. The city would match dollar for dollar what the landlord spends on exterior repairs, if the tenant has a low or moderate income. The maximum grant per house is $10,000.

Sharpe said the allowance for landlord properties was important, if the city hoped to make a difference. Whereas renters occupy 54 percent of residences across the city, the rate is 85 percent in B Street and 65 percent in Bonnie Doone.

But more areas could benefit. On Sept. 5, the council members said they wanted to look at pulling $500,000 from city reserves to expand the program to other areas. At the suggestion of Councilman Jim Arp this spring, the council tucked the half million into savings, rather than budget it for an unspecified revitalization program for Murchison Road.

The other four areas considered for the revitalization program were Massey Hill; Orange Street; Deep Creek Road; and Jasper Street at Murchison Road.

"We need a plan on how we do redevelopment," Councilman Kirk deViere told the council earlier this month. "Instead of throwing money, let's look at a neighborhood redevelopment plan."

The council may get more details in October.

Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Colvin said the city already in recent years has spent money and staff time seeking to reduce prostitution and drug dealing and run-down houses, trash and other blight in the Bonnie Doone and the B Street communities. Other areas need attention, too, said Colvin, whose District 3 includes the communities along Murchison Road.

Councilman Ted Mohn suggested the city review other spending requests before allocating the half million dollars to more neighborhood improvement efforts.

"But I like the concept," Mohn said. "This is a good ask."

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Information from: The Fayetteville Observer

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