The proposal by city administrators to replace rundown houses with new homes by offering builder incentives is a good one, but tweaks suggested by council members Chuck Copple and Phil Stinnett would make it better.

In-fill development in aging sections of the city is essential to any plan to revitalize neighborhoods by eliminating derelict housing, slowing neighborhood decline and boosting the pride — and property values — in those neighborhoods. But the plan presented to the Joplin City Council recently had a glaring omission: It didn’t include houses valued under $150,000.

According to the real estate site Zillow, the average home price in Joplin is $129,226. According to Rocket Homes, a mortgage lender, the median price is $147,133. That means that half of the homes in Joplin are valued at less than $150,000. Most housing needing to be replaced will be in that lower half. If the city fails to add lower price homes to its plan, it is likely the plan will fail to accomplish its goal.

“If we are truly looking at development of buildings and neighborhoods that are economically depressed, I think a $150,000 house is too high,” Copple said. He said an area in his neighborhood has three empty lots from old houses being torn down. “You are not going to be able to put a $150,000 house in that area. The lots are not big enough. We need to look at dialing that back to some of the neighborhoods that need it the worst.”

Stinnett said houses would have to be built in a price range comparable to those in the area where it is located. He is correct. The plan should include development incentives that would meet the need in those areas of town where lots are small and property values are lower. The incentive should be keyed to build homes at 10-25% above the average sales price of homes in the neighborhood. That way the city is encouraging housing in all sectors of the city to help residents in a broader range of income brackets.

The city should also consider the size of incentives. Stinnett said the incentive should be larger. He is correct, especially to get developers to build on in-fill lots in older neighborhoods. Contractor costs are going to be high without the inducement of a high sales price and multiple home builds in a single area.

To address the problem of smaller lots, the city should consider a first-refusal option for adjacent landowners to consolidate properties and bring them back on the tax rolls, a plan to encourage developers to buy adjacent lots and consolidate them, or perhaps a land bank where the city buys and combines lots, then offers them to developers.

Declining neighborhoods are the council’s No. 1 priority among the six goals it set after a series of listening sessions last year. At 147 years old, Joplin has swaths of older homes, and a significant portion of those become derelict each year.

Creative thinking and a willingness to put the resources into a rebuilding effort that meets the housing needs of the broad range of city residents are needed.

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