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Program would use federal funds to fight Klamath Falls blight

Rick Childress

Wed Aug 04 2021 07:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Hundreds of dilapidated, uninhabitable homes are strewn through several Klamath Falls neighborhoods, county officials say. At the same time, the local housing market is lacking in both rental property and affordable, on-the-market houses.

A potential new program being considered by both the Klamath County commissioners and the Klamath Falls city council would seek to make dents in both of those housing issues by using federal funds to encourage investment in rehabilitating older homes that are not currently inhabited.

“We really need to add to the housing stock,” said Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot. “And what this program would be is address those properties from a blight perspective, increase investments in neighborhoods and bring housing stock back and available to the citizens.”

The proposed program, called the Klamath Falls Affordable Housing Initiative Plan on draft documents, would essentially make government grants available to property owners looking to rehab their uninhabitable homes.

The South Central Oregon Economic Development District — known also as SCOEDD — would manage the program. DeGroot chairs SCOEDD’s board of directors, along with Lake County Commissioner Mark Albertson.

The program still requires votes of approval from both the county board of commissioners and the Klamath Falls city council. Additionally, the details of the program are subject to change. The plan was presented to both boards at a mid-July meeting and DeGroot said he collected feedback since then from elected officials on how to potentially modify the program.

“SCOEDD can design around those concerns or questions and then modify the program to address those concerns,” DeGroot said.

The grants would be funded with federal American Rescue Plan dollars that were provided to both Klamath Falls and Klamath County. Under the current proposal, Klamath County would put $1 million in the program and the city would put up $500,000.

Individual grants to homeowners would max out at $50,000. Property owners themselves would have to apply for the grants. Eligible property owners would also have to put up a 10 percent match of grant funds to have “skin in the game,” DeGroot said at the mid-July meeting.

Contractors would provide bids showing the estimated cost of repairs on a specific property. SCOEDD staff, the applying homeowner and potentially city and county staff would review the application and bids and determine whether to move forward with the project.

Property eligible for the program would have to be uninhabited and would likely be designated as a “class one” or “class two” home. The county tax assessor’s office classes homes on a scale from one to eight, DeGroot said.

A class eight home would be essentially a mansion, while a class one “has a dirt floor,” DeGroot said.

DeGroot says he hopes to focus “on those (class) twos where there’s an opportunity for limited investment to bring the property back online. And there’s a great number of them in the community, not all are vacant. In fact, there’s quite a few that are actually inhabited, whether that be by an owner or a tenant, and we’re going to target those homes that are currently not able to be inhabited.”

A previous program that looked to identify and potentially demolition class one and two homes that weren’t salvageable found hundreds of those such homes within the Klamath Falls urban growth boundary. The new program would utilize some of that previously gathered data and look at it “from a different lens,” DeGroot said.

From the streets that branch off Oregon Avenue to the residential areas east of Washburn Way, those potentially uninhabitable class one or two homes can be found in nearly every neighborhood of Klamath Falls, a 2018 map provided by DeGroot for review shows.

At the July 20 meeting where the plan was presented to both boards, Commissioner Donnie Boyd said there were a few builders in the community eager to jump into the project “today.”

Through “casual conversation around the community,” DeGroot said he’s learned of a “great many people that, if the labor was available, would take advantage of this program.”

Todd Andres, the city council member for ward 5, said at the July meeting that if the program were to be launched, he’d want to make sure there was ample resources available to measure the program’s success in the long term.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Phil Studenberg, the council member for ward 1, said at the same meeting. “Do as much as we can with what we got and then build from there. I’d rather be doing something than talking about why we can’t do it. We’re desperately in need.”

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