The city of Columbus is seeking grant funds to remove and replace homes on blighted properties.
The city council unanimously approved City Planner George Irby applying for a $500,000 Mississippi Home Corporation Blight Elimination Program grant, which could allow up to $15,000 per home for acquisition and demolition. The grant does not require a match from the city.
Irby said blighted properties are those the city condemns, or declare unfit for human occupation. The targeted properties must be identified and included in the grant application.
“All of this has to be in the grant (application) itself,” he said. “We can’t apply for the money and then go find the houses.”
In order to apply, the city and its partners must acquire blighted properties that are identified for demolition from property owners who agree to sell. Irby said the Columbus Redevelopment Authority will be one partner, and the city could also partner with a private company.
Partners will own the property and oversee the demolition and replacement process, Irby said.
“They will own the property, they will demolish the property and they will put another structure on the property,” he said.
Irby asked the council to create a three-week moratorium on Code Enforcement Officer Tomarris Jones bringing properties that would normally fall to the city for demolition before the council in order to talk to owners about acquiring the properties to be demolished through the grant.
“We could put (those houses) on a list to demolish when we do the grant,” Irby said. “That means that the grant money would pay for the demolition and (Public Works Director Casey Bush’s) guys would not have to do that. That saves the city time and money.”
Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor expressed concern about targeting occupied houses.
“What if you have a live in — a person living in one?” Taylor asked.
Irby said the program will only target vacant, dilapidated properties.
Properties that aren’t sold for the program could still come before the council as normal, Irby said.
He also noted, in response to a question from Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, the city will compete with other public entities across the state for the grant.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box said he thinks the program could work out well for the city.
“It’s an outstanding program,” Box said. “When you can get that much money and not have to put a match into it, that’s good off the bat. It could really help us get some of these blighted houses off the tax rolls. We have so many substandard houses out there, and this could really help us if we can get it going right.”
In other business, the council completed appointing members to the election commission. The council began the process last month, but it stalled when Mickens said he wanted greater ward representation.
The board voted 5-1, with Ward 4 Councilman Fredrick Jackson opposed, to reappoint longtime commissioner Leon Speck.
The board also voted 4-2, to appoint Willie Harries in place of Commissioner Josie Shumake. Taylor, Mickens, Jackson and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones supported the vote, while Box and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin opposed.
Box said he was disappointed to see Shumake, who has served several terms on the commission, go.
“We need her on there,” he said. “She’s got a lot of experience. She’s been on there and knows a lot about elections. I’m sorry that we couldn’t get her back on there. That’s just one of the ways it goes sometimes.”
Councilmen also approved hiring two certified police officers and six entry-level officers.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.