City part of ‘Project of The Year’

A program that enabled the City of Union to demolish and clear away dilapidated houses has been named the SC Association of Regional Councils (SCARC) Project of the Year for 2018.

In a statement released at the end of November, Catawba Regional Council of Governments (COG) Executive Director Randy Imler announced that “Catawba Regional’s ‘Neighborhood Initiative Program and Workforce Housing Study’ was chosen as the 2018 Project of the Year at the SC Association of Regional Councils (SCARC) Annual Conference in Myrtle Beach last week. This project was selected from nine competitive project nominations across the state.”

In congratulating the members of the Catawba Regional Council of Governments and Development Corporation Board on the winning of the award, Imler said “we are thankful for your continued support of — and engagement with — the Council and Development Corporation. COG staff work hard to make our region a better place in which to live, work, and play, and I know you will join me in celebrating this success and congratulating the team on the continuing peer recognition for highly innovative and impactful work.“

The COG’s Neighborhood Initiative Program and Workforce Housing Study was funded with $5.6 million of competitive funding the organization received from the South Carolina Housing Finance and Development Authority’s “Neighborhood Initiative Program” (NIP). The funds were part of an allocation South Carolina received through the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund. The NIP program was established to reduce residential foreclosures through blight elimination activities.

The funds received by the COG for the Neighborhood Initiative Program and Workforce Housing Study were used to acquire, demolish, and green blighted residential properties in Chester, Lancaster, Union and York counties. The Catawba Regional Development Corporation, a non-profit affiliate of the Council of Governments, acquires and manages targeted properties through the demolition and greening process.

Among the communities that shared in the funding was the City of Union which used it to acquire and demolish dilapidated houses in 2017 and the early part of 2018.

“We tore down eighteen dilapidated houses and cleaned up a lot of neighborhoods,” Mayor Harold Thompson said Wednesday. “It was a good program and it worked real well.”

Thompson said the city used the funding provided through the Neighborhood Initiative Program and Workforce Housing Study to not only demolish the dilapidated houses and clean up those properties, but to also acquire those properties. He said that under the terms of the program, the city will retain ownership and maintain those properties for three years. At the end of that time, Thompson said the owners will have the option of regaining those properties by reimbursing the city the cost of their acquisition.

“The city will maintain these properties over the next three years,” Thompson said. “We paid the owners for those properties and, if they want to regain ownership of them at the end of those three years and rebuild they can do so by reimbursing the city the amount we paid them when we acquired ownership.”

Thompson stressed that the goal of the program is to improve the city’s appearance and maintain and increase property values. He said he hopes more property owners with a dilapidated house on their property will agree to participate in the program if it is renewed and let the city clean up their properties and give them the opportunity after three years to reacquire their cleaned and maintained property and rebuild on it.

“This program is helping the city look better,” Thompson said. “There’s still more to do and we hope to get additional funding to do more.

“We hope the citizens will buy into this and other programs that help make the city look good,” he said. “It’s an extremely good program that people can advantage of and get their property and their city improved.”

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times