Some of Joplin’s challenges as identified in a “listening tour” survey were laid out recently for the City Council by City Manager Nick Edwards; the council will discuss the report in more depth at a daylong retreat scheduled for Nov. 30.
One of the more difficult and diffuse problems to engage is also one of the most important to get right. At 147 years old, Joplin has swaths of older homes and a number of commercial structures that are falling into disrepair. A significant portion of those become derelict each year, and slowing the dissolution of these structures or razing and replacing them will test our community’s resources and ability to innovate.
Curtailing blight will take a careful mix of support for homeowners and property owners of decaying structures combined with effective penalties and enforcement for those who don’t properly maintain their properties.
For example, the city could coordinate grant funds and volunteer efforts through groups such as Habitat for Humanity and other charities to help owners — often elderly themselves — of older homes in order to shore up homes that are sliding into disrepair. As homeowners age, they sometimes have problems keeping up with or affording maintenance. The effort could focus on things such as roofing, siding, water infiltration and structural problems that worsen rapidly if not addressed. Intervening early would rapidly reduce decline, and such repairs would decrease the number of homes that become derelict each year.
As owners die or can no longer care for their homes, the structures are frequently sold as investment property and then used as rental units. Those can be a boon to lower income renters, but some owners — often absentee landlords — are simply extracting income from the properties without proper maintenance and upkeep. Rental structures can decline rapidly, so the city needs regulations and sufficient code enforcement to encourage appropriate maintenance of investment property.
Managing the problem will also take an effective derelict structure program to provide transparent and efficient procedures to condemn, demolish and clear properties. Cleared properties can then be sold for redevelopment. Support for resell could include, for example, a first refusal option for adjacent landowners to consolidate properties and bring them back on the tax rolls. The city also could consider a land bank for resale to developers and tax breaks for infill redevelopment.
In addition to the loss of revenue to the local economy from these properties, the cost of vacant and abandoned buildings is high, dragging down property values and rents for adjacent structures and reducing property tax income, a lynchpin of school funding. Derelict structures erode quality of life and pride in our community. Dealing with declining and derelict structures will be a key issue to address as the city approaches its sesquicentennial.
“But I think there are some things, if you look at all the questions, you’re going to find some things that stand up,” Edwards said. “... Neighborhoods and blight and all that stand up big.”
We agree. Let’s get to work.