Local Organizations Tackling Housing Improvement Projects

The before and after photos of a house on Delaware Avenue that participated in the Renaissance Block Challenge last year. Submitted photo

There are several Jamestown area organizations that have programs aimed at improving housing in city neighborhoods.

But are these programs working to increase neighborhood property values?

That is a question the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is working to answer when it comes to their Renaissance Block Challenge program. Between 2011 and 2016, 30 clusters have participated in the program, with more than 350 property owners investing more than $900,000 in exterior improvements and repairs. In 2017, five more neighborhoods — Weeks/Hotchkiss streets; Dearing Avenue; Widrig Avenue; and Front Street, which will technically be two clusters — are currently participating in the program.

The Renaissance Block Challenge was created by Peter Lombardi, former JRC deputy director. When Lombardi was the neighborhood project associate with JRC, he started the program when Jamestown’s neighborhood revitalization plan, which was done by czb LLC, was finalized in 2010.

One of the primary recommendations was to start a program that would offer small matching grants to clusters of property owners who made a commitment to exterior home improvements.

Mary Maxwell, JRC neighborhood project associate, said they are working with Lombardi, who now works for czb, on a housing market analysis and neighborhood revitalization strategy review.

“This extensive research study examined the past and current housing situation in Jamestown and the impact the Renaissance Block Challenge program has had on the situation,” Maxwell said in a news release to The Post-Journal. “The study suggest important strategies and helps to define priorities for future Renaissance Block Challenges. It is a plan, a blueprint, for action for the next five years. Collaboration with partners and concentrating in specific areas will be the key. After the acceptance of the study by the JRC Board of Directors, JRC’s Board Neighborhood Committee will develop an action plan to implement the study. At that time we will submit a press release.”

During the first year of the Renaissance Block Challenge, Grant, Liberty and Lincoln streets, and Royal Avenue participated in the program. Not all home owners on Grant, Liberty and Lincoln streets, and Royal Avenue participated in the program in 2011, but all that applied for funding received a matching grant for exterior home improvements.

According to information from the Jamestown Assessor’s Office, the total assessment for single-family, two-family and three-family houses on Grant Street and Royal Avenue have increased since 2011. In 2011, the total assessment for 18 houses on Grant Street was $642,000. In 2017, the total assessment was $654,000, an increase of $12,000. Royal Avenue’s total assessed value for 26 houses has increased by $1,000 between 2011-2017. In 2017, the total assessed value was $1,471,000.

The total assessed value for Liberty Street in 2011 for 33 houses was $1,489,500. In 2017, it was $1,464,500, a decrease of $25,000. Between 2011-2017, the total assessed value for 31 houses on Lincoln street decreased by $500. In 2017, the total assessed value was $948,000.

Kevin Okerlund, city assessor, said there is a greater difference in assessed values of houses that have gone through the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corp Rehab 4 Sale program because they take unlivable properties and find investors to renovate the houes for purchase. The land bank endeavors to stabilize neighborhoods by targeting blight and/or declining properties, which are negatively impacting neighborhood property values or livability.

By acquiring these properties, the land bank can clean them up, secure them and offer them at below market value to interested purchasers who will commit to renovating them to specified levels. This reinvestment not only rehabilitate the target property, but works toward reversing the trend of declining property values in the neighborhood.

Gina Paradis, land bank executive director, said the program started in 2013, right after the land bank was first created in 2012. The program works by acquiring abandoned or foreclosed houses that are assessed for potential renovation. The houses are secured, appraised in “as is” condition and cleaned out. If they are structurally sound and have some market value, they will be listed in the Chautauqua County Realtors Association Multiple Listing Service and marketed below market value, often at 60 percent below the appraisal.

Interested buyers may be do-it-yourselfers, investors or development companies and will submit their plans for review using a simple application and proposal template. Often, a deadline is placed on proposal submissions and noted in the realtors listing service. It is important to note that the program does not necessarily award a home to the highest bidder, but proposals are reviewed by the land bank board and the proposal that best aligns with their mission and shows the best overall reinvestment outcome for the house is generally selected by the board for approval of a negotiated sale.

“They started the program right away,” Paradis said. “I think there were five properties that first year. One of the properties ended up being demoed. It wasn’t in good enough shape. Three of the first renovations were located in Dunkirk and Fredonia. One was in Jamestown on Newland Avenue, which was completed in 2014 when I started (with the land bank.)”

Paradis said for the greater Jamestown area, 30 rehab properties have been acquired, with 12 being completed, 10 in the process of being rehabilitated and eight still being marketed to find the right developer. She said the sales revenue generated from the houses is $257,300, with the average sale price being $11,700. The total reinvestment in the houses is $745,954, with the average reinvestment being $33,907 a property.