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City Eyes First Listings Through Homeownership Program

A sign promoting Jamestown’s 19A Homeownership Program is pictured in front of 18 Catlin Ave. Nine properties in the program will soon be put on the market. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

In May 2021, a host of Jamestown officials gathered in front of a Catlin Avenue property in desperate need of some TLC to announce the rollout of a new housing strategy.

Boiled down, the city would commence a series of legal actions to take ownership of abandoned and vacant homes that had at least one code violation and one year of unpaid taxes and then sell them to qualified people.

At the time, the 19A Homeownership Program — named for the procedure in the state’s real property law for which municipalities can obtain properties — was promoted as a means to fight blight with a community approach.

“We need to encourage investment and save neighborhoods when we can,” Mayor Eddie Sundquist said at the time.

Today, the city is looking to list its first couple of properties following the completion of interior and exterior work.

While the process has taken much longer than first anticipated, Mayor Kim Ecklund noted the importance of the program and its goal to make available affordable housing — hopefully to first-time buyers.

“I think this is a chance for those that maybe could not afford a large down payment but want to own their own home, want to turn things around, want a safe place and want to feel part of the community,” Ecklund told The Post-Journal recently. “I think this encourages that for those who don’t have the ability to pay those big expenses.”

In spring 2021, the city identified 45 “zombie” properties — defined as being a vacant or abandoned house that is not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding — as well as up to 200 properties not being maintained.

At the time of the housing strategy announcement, a dozen 19A lawsuits had been filed for the city to obtain titles to identified homes. To fund the program, the Jamestown City Council in November 2022 agreed to provide $500,000 from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

The program’s upside has been touted for the last two years.

“Many of these houses that are being renovated were considered ‘nuisance houses’ in the past by neighbors,” Crystal Surdyk, city director of development, said last year. “This program will not only provide an opportunity for first-time homebuyers to invest in our great city, but will also help make our neighborhoods safer and more vibrant.”

In a recent interview, Ecklund said the first nine properties that have undergone some rehab will soon be put on the market. They are located at: 49 Utica St., 810 N. Main St., 20 Johnson St., 18 Catlin Ave., 58 Cowden Place, 73 Beech St., 177 Barker St., 71 Barker St., and 94 Howard St.

Sales will come with certain conditions.

According to Surdyk, anyone who acquires a property through the program must maintain it as their primary residence for five years. Further, all code violations must be remediated upon the purchase, and renovations must be made within a reasonable amount of time that will be based upon the agreed upon scope of work.

The city will utilize any profits gained from the program to fund the rehab process of additional properties. As announced last year, the goal will be to create a sustainable program that will not run the risk of depleting the original $500,000 of ARPA funding resources.

“Housing, as you know, is a really big topic,” Ecklund said. “There are some beautiful homes that are rehabitable. Some have gone too far and, obviously, that’s not one we’re going to take on.”

The Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency in 2023 hired Jay Schultz as the city Department of Development’s 19A Homeownership Program contractor. Surdyk previously said Schultz would help outline strategies to clean up the homes before marketing them for new buyers.

Ecklund said Schultz’s hiring has been “critical” for the 19A program. She noted that he’s “someone with experience in construction.”

Ecklund referenced a multi-pronged approach to addressing the city’s housing situation.

“We have a lot of homes that need to be addressed that are still sustainable but just have code issues that need to be addressed,” she said. “We also have a lot of homes that I’m anxiously awaiting for the ARPA money to be used to demo. Those I’m hoping are coming soon and those are the homes that are past the point of any repair. Those do more damage in a lot of ways; they’re not only an eyesore in the neighborhood, they’re also potentially a fire risk. It doesn’t inspire taking pride in your neighborhood when you have that issue.”

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