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Positive news on the housing front

My wife often reminds me that I see too much from the negative side of things…and she is probably right. So, this week, feeling the warmth of Spring and the promises of Easter as a back-drop…I am focusing on some positive developments locally as to our housing situation.

Just to set the stage. The fact is that close to 40% of the housing stock in Chautauqua County was built prior to 1940 (the year I was born.) That means that it is old. Dealing with that is a challenge in any community.

With that in mind, I was pleased to read in the newspaper recently of actions being taken by the Mayor and Jamestown City Council dealing with rental properties but also with “nuisance” problems like vacant lots, “zombie” houses, and the like. The City seems to be empowering itself to take on these issues.

Another positive development was the recent Report by the Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth (CCPEG) establishing a “Housing Market Assessment and Development Strategy” for the whole county. CCPEG is a partnership of government and the private sector (including foundations) to tackle economic development in a cooperative way at the county level.

I would first give this report a “plus” rating because it does not try to sugar coat the problem. Not only do we have a lot of old housing, we also have a large portion of our population who have a hard time paying for good housing: “Approximately, 53% of Chautauqua County households earn less than the annual income needed to comfortably afford homeownership, including mortgage and utilities.”

The second, and more positive take from the Report, is that the Partnership has agreed to help local municipalities in addressing the housing problem. This is important because many local communities just don’t have the staff and expertise to deal with their housing issues.

For example, the partnership will assist municipalities in submitting applications to the state to become qualified for aid under the “Pro-Housing Communities” program or in making applications for federal homebuilding aid which is “family-oriented and in a safe location near employment opportunities.”

Most local communities don’t have the financial resources to attack housing blight in a systematic way by themselves … they will need access to state and federal assistance.

We know that there are no easy answers to our housing problems. There is also no doubt that when we look at vacant lots and broken-down or vacant houses that we wish there was a solution to it.

Decades ago, while working and going to grad school in Chicago, I found that one of the best solutions to housing problems there was the presence of effective and active community/neighborhood organizations. Hopefully, as things progress here it will also stimulate more community engagement in the job of improving our neighborhoods.

I remember years ago when Prime Minister “Maggie” Thatcher introduced a new housing program in Great Britain to encourage home ownership. People said it couldn’t be done – but a lot did get done.

We can get it done here too. These recent developments locally as to housing are a good thing. Another positive is that when you fix up a home or build a new home in an old neighborhood, you don’t have to worry about public infrastructure. The sewer, water, natural gas and electric utility services are already there.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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