A New Way to Restore Neighborhoods
Stephen Rasmussen, City Manager
Dilapidated properties cause many issues for a community, such as increased crime, risk to health and welfare, and municipal costs. Cameron, Missouri, is no exception and the city has developed an innovative program to restore old neighborhoods. Rental properties are one cause of neighborhood blight, as tenants do not always maintain homes at the same level as owners living on the property. Approximately 53 percent of Cameron's housing stock is rental properties, and if these homes become dilapidated, the whole neighborhood suffers. Because of the high rate of rentals, this has an effect on the entire community.
Through its Demolition Program, the city encourages owners to remove structures that are substandard, hazardous, or dangerous. Each year, the city appropriates funds to partner with residential property owners to remove these structures. The goal of the city is to provide affordable housing and increase economic development, which, in turn, increases employment, competitive wages, and post-secondary education opportunities. The ultimate goal, however, is to make the program financially self-sustaining.
The Demolition Program, offered through the Community Development Department, provides two options. Property owners can elect to participate in the 50/50 option, whereby the owner splits the demolition cost with the city but retains the property, or in the 100 percent option, whereby property owners with limited funding sign over the property entirely to the city, which forgives any remaining property tax and removes the structure at the city's expense. Once the structure is removed, the property is placed for sale, and as part of the selling agreement, the buyer is responsible for constructing a single-family home on it within two years. The new owner will then be responsible for maintaining the property and making sure it remains free of city nuisances.
The process begins with a field inspection, a meeting with the property owner, and a meeting with the demolition contractor. It ends with a follow-up inspection once the structure is removed. The first line of contact with the property owner is the city inspector, who explains the program details. Part of the success of the program is the communication between the inspector and the property owners.
Cameron has adopted and enforced codes to maintain public health and safety, despite some resistance from residents who receive letters and/or citations. Now, for properties that are far beyond repair, the city promotes the Demolition Program rather than issuing citations. Thus, the program not only improves the housing in the city but also relieves property owners of a burden they can longer endure. The city partners with the community to resolve issues with dilapidated properties rather than wasting time and money trying to simply enforce codes. Another benefit of the Demolition Program is that it helps revitalize neighborhoods by increasing the number of new. affordable, owner-occupied homes, which are low-maintenance and energy-efficient, and increase property values. The availability of these new homes can attract future business and provide revenue for the school district and the city.
The Demolition Program has had the full support of the city council and has been very successful. It won first place for the 2020 Missouri Municipal League Innovation Award and has also won the 2020 Missouri Municipal League Member’s Choice Award. Cameron’s Demolition Program shows what a local government can do when it partners with residents to make improvements for current and future members of the community.