City of Savannah takes steps to rid a neighborhood of blighted property

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Folks who live in Westside Savannah had been waiting for this day and the sound of a bit of dirt turning over in shovels. City leaders and some residents lined up for a groundbreaking Tuesday that they say signals a new beginning for Cumming Street, which has at least half a dozen abandoned and neglected homes and several vacant lots.

“So that’s the reason Cumming Street became the quote ‘Ground Zero’ to making something happen in this community,” said Savannah Mayor Eddie Deloach. “We’re talking years in some places around here that were just boarded up and falling down.”

A recent change in state law is helping cities like Savannah deal more effectively with the legal hurdles of acquiring property sooner. Last March, a home that stood at the site was finally demolished and now with the help of the private sector, a new home will be built in its place. It’s hoped ultimately that as many as eight new homes will be built on this street

“To the westside, it tells us that it’s just not blighted property we’ll see along the way but that blighted property will be removed and that new property will be put in place that’s affordable housing,” said Marsha Buford who heads up the West Savannah Community Organization

“To all of these neighbors who waited and prayed for something to happen – well finally these streets will rise again these streets will be vibrant again,” said Alderman Van Johnson who represents District 1 which includes the westside.

But we’re told the issue isn’t just one neighborhood because there are many across the city that need revitalization.

Martin Fretty, the Director of Housing and Neighborhood Services for the city of Savannah said for “citizens sitting at home wondering why should I care about this, it’s because you’re paying for the maintenance of these properties that have been abandoned.”

Fretty said revitalizing homes can ultimately cost less than trying to maintain the safety of neglected property and that a rehabilitated home that sells to private owners puts put back into the tax base.

The city is also pursuing a plan to use SPLOST funding (Special Local Option Sales Tax) to raise between $10 and $20 million dollars to launch what leaders know is an ambitious project to purchase abandoned property and then involve private sector bankers and contractors to rebuild homes and sell them back to families.

“I want to get this SPLOST program passed where we’ve got that $10 million allocated where we can continue this process,” said Mayor Deloach.

It’s estimated the city could be involved in revitalizing up to 100 homes per year (even with a $10 million dollar SPLOST approval).

“Because we need to do 100 houses a year with the private sector to make communities come back to life,” said Deloach.

Alderman Johnson, who is running against Deloach for the mayoral job in November, agreed that the SPLOST project could make a huge difference: “It would mean that inner-city communities can now live again and that’s what we’ve been fighting for for years. So I’m glad you know one battle is over (Cumming Street) but now a new battle begins.”

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