MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 1, 2014

Program aims to add houses to city

It will provide incentives for building on lots cleared by razing

An incentives program that officials hope will spur residential development of infill lots in neighborhoods throughout Muskogee has been approved by city councilors.

The program is designed to help build houses on the hundreds of lots left vacant by the demolition of dilapidated structures. The city has demolished hundreds of dilapidated residential structures during the past 10 years and continues to demolish” about 60 structures a year.

Planning Director Gary Garvin outlined a plan earlier this year to demolish nearly 500 structures that have been condemned and continue to deteriorate. The city is poised to move forward with that plan if City of Muskogee Foundation board members approve a $1 million grant request, further necessitating a plan for infill development.

“In addition to the $1 million, we will be asking for another $300,000 ... for the demolition and incentive program,” Garvin said, noting the $1 million demolition grant would be matched by revenue that would be generated by the proposed extension of a capital improvements sales tax. “The reason these are tied together is we will have a lot of infill lots, and we are trying to encourage the redevelopment of those lots.”

Garvin said, if the grants are funded, the program would provide up to $34,600 worth of incentives for an eligible builder and buyer of a $100,000 house. Incentives would include cash rebates that would lower the cost of a home for the buyer while allowing a builder to recoup eligible costs and a reasonable profit.

The incentive program also would authorize the waiver of fees for building permits and inspections, and in some instances, no-cost lots. Buyers would be eligible for temporary rate reductions for water, sewer and trash services. If city officials secure a grant from the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, income-qualified buyers would be eligible for assistance with down payments and closing costs.

Program eligibility would require builders to buy materials from local vendors and utilize local contractors. Buyers would be required to use local surveyors, title companies and lawyers at closing. If certain materials or services are unavailable locally, incentives could be available if a builder provides notice and is able to prove the unavailability of particular goods or services.

Ward IV Councilor Marlon Coleman, who argued during his recent campaign the need for affordable housing for middle-class families, fought a proposal to require local lenders. That element was excluded from amendments proposed Monday during the City Council meeting.

“You have to have flexibility to be able to shop around for a mortgage,” Coleman said, citing personal experience. “If we restrict it to local bankers only or local financing only, a lot of people who would be eligible but could not get financing locally would be hurt.”

Garvin concurred, saying the initial goal is to get 10 or 12 new houses built during the first year of the program and then review and make any changes that might be needed. One main concern, Garvin said, is to secure program funding and then not be able to use the money because of a lack of interest.

Foundation board members will announce in June whether funding for the demolition and incentive programs will be made available.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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