City eyeing a long-term housing solution

It’s no secret that Clinton’s perception is being held back by its pockets of deteriorating housing stock.

Until recently, that well-known opinion felt like a taboo topic, with city leaders kicking the can down the road on making a strong commitment in cleaning up certain sections of the city.

This week, that changed.

The city of Clinton is poised to alter an existing ordinance to increase tax abatements for home owners living in blighted areas. It’s been a mission in recent years to alter the future of Clinton’s housing stock, and this measure is another one in a long line of efforts to attempt to reshape the city’s image.

What the ordinance will do is incentive homeowners in these areas or historical areas on improvements made to their homes. The abatement is slated to be 100 percent for 10 years.

Currently, a homeowner can make improvements to his or her home by at least 5 percent with 50 percent of the taxes on the increased value being abated for three years.

With the housing stock suffering, city leaders are turning to multiple ideas to not only shift the attitudes of homeowners, but open their pocketbooks as well.

Incentivising residents to make their homes more attractive is necessary to keep pushing the city’s image in the right direction. The current ordinance is not doing enough to entice those who live in blighted areas to make improvements. It may appear unfair to some residents who are not included in this strategy, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent in creating better avenues to improve the city’s housing options.

This plan works on multiple levels. Upgrading current homes is desperately needed, and it’s been festering for far too long. The median year for owner-occupied housing construction in Clinton is 1954, nine years older than the state of Iowa.

According to a housing needs assessment completed for the city of Clinton, “Even with accelerated new housing construction, older units will still make up a large portion of the area’s housing stock for the foreseeable future.”

Yes, there has been a lot more development in Clinton in recent years, mostly focused on apartment living, which was a desperate need for this community. However, even with apartments and new construction activity rising, we shouldn’t ignore what’s already here. It’s not feasible to believe we can just abandon certain areas of town, demolish those structures and build everything new.

And reducing that need to demolish buildings is one of the top agenda items of this ordinance. The city spends $100,000 a year demolishing buildings. Those buildings are eyesores, lending to the perception that the town is dying.

So it’s necessary to tear down buildings, but it’s a waste of money. Making sure those structures stay occupied and up-to-date is a much better strategy in the long-run than getting to the point of tear-down.

Will this ultimately hinder future tax collections? Maybe, but at a much smaller scale than the tax increment financing does with other developments.

The increase in property value is well-worth the minor trade-off. Now that this agreement is moving forward, I’m hoping the city takes a more active approach in alerting residents about this opportunity.

I’d love to believe everybody reads the Clinton Herald, checks the city’s Facebook page or reads the Lighthouse. Unfortunately, that just isn’t accurate.

City officials need to be active in alerting residents in these sections of town, and it shouldn’t just be a one-time mailed letter. There should be a process set up, where homeowners are reminded of the program, and while it may not be on their mind right now, that could change in a year or two.

Without reminders, those incentives often drift from memories.

Combined with the recent community block development grant opportunity that provides funds to renovate homes, this measure makes long-term sense for all of Clinton.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at scottlevine@clintonherald.com or @ScottLevineCH on Twitter.