PENDLETON — Some skepticism over the Pendleton Development Commission’s advisory committee blighted housing loan proposal will send the idea back to the drawing board.
At a commission workshop Tuesday, Charles Denight, the commission’s associate director, explained the proposal.
A homeowner in the urban renewal district could be given a no-interest loan of up to $16,000 to fix up the exterior of their blighted house.
To incentivize house maintenance after the repairs are finished, the city would forgive 20% of the loan each year the homeowner successfully passes an annual inspection, up to 100%.
The loan program would also be available to rental housing owners, but they could only get up to 50% of their loans forgiven.
Assuming the commission issued 30 loans, Denight estimated it would cost the urban renewal district $353,850 to do the loan program over two years.
The committee’s proposal comes in the wake of a downtown blight study that showed 25 residential properties in the downtown area demonstrated symptoms of blight like peeling paint or a lack of yard maintenance.
But some city council members, who comprise the membership of the commission, argued that the loan program wouldn’t address the base issue of blighted homes: owners who were either unable or unwilling to fix their properties.
Mayor John Turner suggested the city take it a step further, buying blighted houses at low prices and then teaming up with one of the “half-dozen” or more locals who make money flipping houses, and then putting the renewed house back on the market.
“This would be a perfect thing for us to buy, for probably peanuts,” he said. “(We) go into cahoots with one of these guys that’s a professional at fixing these things up. They make money. We get an attractive piece of property and we get our money back.”
City Attorney Nancy Kerns suggested many blighted houses need much more than a coat of paint.
“I’ve been in a number of the houses that were on (the presentation’s) slideshow, and lipstick on a pig doesn’t even quite go far enough,” she said. “They are not ever going to be fixable — I think some of them need to go.”
Kerns said the commission already had a demolition grant program that contributes toward the cost of a demolition if a property owner is willing to replace it with something three times the value.
She said that can be a tough standard to meet, and the commission should consider relaxing its standards.
Houses in disrepair aren’t just restricted to downtown Pendleton, and although the urban renewal district extends past the area, it covers little south of the train tracks or north of the Umatilla River.
City Manager Robb Corbett said the city could tap into revenue generated by liens to possible expand an anti-blight housing program outside of the urban renewal district.
In the meantime, the council instructed Denight and the committee to consider its suggestions and come back with a revised proposal.