What they discovered, and what is central to the city’s 64-page central neighborhood master plan approved by city commissioners last week, is that 1 in 6 homes had peeling paint, worn siding, signs of neglect, or fallen roofs and porches.
Fifty-seven of the apartment buildings – 1 in 5 – had slippery or distressed signs on the outside.
With an estimated average cost of $ 35,000 per structure, it would cost around $ 50 million to upgrade them all, according to the plan, which was prepared with help from the consulting firm czb and interviewed over 80 community volunteers and 400 residents.
The City Commission launched the $ 288,000 study in July 2019 to create a plan that focused on key issues facing the city’s oldest neighborhood surrounding downtown Fargo and stretching all the way to Highways 94 and 29.
The main concern identified was with rental units or owner-occupied homes in need of repairs or updates, which, according to the city’s long-range planning coordinator, Aaron Nelson, who worked extensively on the report. , is somehow tied to almost all of the data in the report and suggestions for preserving the nine neighborhoods of what planners call the heart of the city.
Other major concerns raised by some of the 34,000 residents who live in the neighborhoods were safety, quality of life and new developments in conflict with the areas in which they live.
No “ magic bullet ”
While the inner city study identifies a number of issues affecting the area stretching north to south from 19th Avenue to Interstate 94 and east-west from the Red River to Interstate 29, Nelson has said planners have not identified a “quick fix” that will improve the area.
However, he agrees with Fargo City Commissioner John Strand, who asked Deputy Planning Director Mark Williams what the city can do to make sure the plan doesn’t stick and pile up. not dust.
Williams told Strand his department would work with the plan almost on a daily basis when making decisions about zoning and other planning issues facing the city, as they do with many other reports prepared.
One of the next steps for planners will be to bring in various departments, such as inspections and public works, to form a group that will begin to process the report’s suggestions and develop a comprehensive toolkit to tackle the issues. housing stock, parks and infrastructure, Nelson said. .
The plan will also involve working with nonprofit partners in the community and, hopefully, more involved neighborhood associations, he added.
In a letter to the Fargo community, the Alexandria, Va. Based czb and company president Charles Buki wrote glowingly about many aspects of the central neighborhoods, including their extremely rare canopies of mature elms along streets and blocks of quaint historic houses and schools that anchor the pedestrian districts.
The firm also praised efforts to build and rebuild downtown Fargo, which “too many other cities have overlooked.”
While impressed with the city, the consultants wrote that they also documented “significant levels of divestment in the urban core, but not yet overwhelming.”
The letter added that central district housing in need of repair “should be a source of concern and action.”
What this means, the firm writes, is that about half of residential properties in the urban core are vulnerable to loss in value, which, from a financial perspective, should matter to residents. residents of the region.
If the city and residents fail to fix the problem, it could lead to a reduction in the tax base, a reduction in demand for housing in the area, and a weakening of the neighborhoods surrounding Dakota State University. North and downtown Fargo, the company said in the letter.
The consultants said taking action was like “changing the oil in a car regularly to avoid costly repairs in the future.”
In addition to renovations and repairs, the report also recommended that the city enforce existing codes on property maintenance, such as requiring residents to remove weeds and litter from lawns. Consultants suggested tackling code violations by dividing neighborhoods into a series of areas that receive a block-by-block scan for code violations on a regular basis.
While the Basic Neighborhood Plan looks at many other suggestions, the consultants wrote that it will require focus, risk tolerance, collaboration, patience, and long-term thinking. which is rare in most communities – including Fargo – as work progresses over the next 10 years.
There’s no easy answer for homeowners who don’t have the money to fix their homes, said Nelson, who recognized affordability is a major concern for planners.
However, there are options.
A deal between Gate City Bank and the city for low-interest repair loans is an underutilized program, Nelson said. The city also offers property tax reductions to residents who undertake home improvement projects.
However, the Central Neighborhoods report suggests larger-scale plans to provide assistance to eligible low-income building owners in neighborhoods, where most homes were built between the 1890s and the 1940s.
This is a sign in the Roosevelt neighborhood, one of the more troubled neighborhoods in the original neighborhoods or in the heart of the city, with many homes and rental housing in need of repairs or renovations. Submitted photo
Planning consultants suggested that the city start by taking a small pool of resources to help cover repair costs and match aid from nonprofit partners such as Rebuilding Together.
One of these partners, the newly formed Cass Clay Community Land Trust, is an example of an agency that aims to improve the affordable housing stock. He also seeks to repair dilapidated houses and build on vacant lots.
The trust offers low- and modest-income homebuyers an average grant of $ 50,000 to help reduce monthly mortgage payments. In turn, ownership of the land on which the house sits reverts to the trust and is leased to the buyer.
The organization is in the process of selecting its first four families to move into twin homes this year on 13th Avenue and 16 1/2 Street in the southern part of the central neighborhoods, director Trent Gerads told city commissioners. last week.
Gerads said he hopes his emerging organization can meet its goal of adding five more residential properties for a total of 10 to the trust this year. The trust plans to make 105 affordable housing units permanently available to families within five years, he said.
While nonprofits and the city are working together on ways to help central neighborhoods, some upgrades such as garbage or weed removal on properties may not be very expensive as they simply involve the enforcement of regulations.