Note: This story was last updated at 12:30 p.m.
It’s being described as a first: An Oak Ridge home is being demolished Wednesday as part of a state blight elimination program. It’s the first home to be torn down in Anderson County as part of the state’s HHF Blight Elimination Program.
The property being demolished is at 678 West Outer Drive. It’s owned by the Oak Ridge Land Bank. The demolition, being done by First Place Finish, is estimated to cost close to $3,600, and it is expected to be completed today (Wednesday, May 3).
The work is being funded by the U.S. Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund, or HHF. Tennessee’s HHF Blight Elimination Program is administered by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, or THDA. Anderson County is one of six counties in the Volunteer State included in the program.
Under the Blight Elimination Program, qualified nonprofits and land banks can apply for loans of up to $25,000 to cover the cost of acquiring a blighted abandoned home, demolishing it, “greening” the property, and maintaining the vacant lot. The greened lot can then be transformed into new affordable housing or another use that is approved by THDA and is expected to stabilize and improve the neighborhood.
The Oak Ridge Land Bank was the applicant for the West Outer Drive home.
The future of the roughly 0.3-acre parcel on West Outer Drive isn’t clear yet. The single-story home, which has been vacant for “a long time,” was built in the 1940s, and it was less than 900 square feet. It featured five rooms: a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and two bedrooms.
Among the potential uses for the parcel: selling it so someone can build an owner-occupied home, leaving it as green space, or dividing it between neighbors, possibly for more off-street parking.
Charlie Jernigan, chair of the Oak Ridge Land Bank, said the property appraised for $15,000, and the Land Bank bought it for that. Repairs were estimated at about $25,000.
“It needed a lot of repairs,” Jernigan said. “It would have cost far more than the appraisal value to fix it up.”
Most of the damage was inside, including ceiling and roof leaks, said Matt Widner of the Oak Ridge Community Development Department and the city’s liaison to the Land Bank. The home needed new electrical and plumbing systems, and new appliances, Widner said.
It was one of Oak Ridge’s so-called “legacy homes.” It had 2×2 studs rather than 2×4 studs, Jernigan said, making it harder to insulate.
Widner said the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals had issued a demolition order for the property.
“It was in sad shape,” Jernigan said.
Because the home was over 50 years old, using the federal funding required a historic review, Widner said.
Jernigan said the Land Bank closed on another property on Wednesday morning at 394 Robertsville Road, and the organization plans to apply for HHF funding for that home as well.
He said the West Outer Drive home is a good test case for the Land Bank because it was small, it had been on the market for a while, and the $25,000 in available funding would be enough to buy the property, demolish the home, and maintain the parcel for three years.
Lindsay Hall, chief administrative officer of THDA’s single-family program in Nashville, said the goal of the HHF Blight Elimination Program is to eliminate blighted properties that are condemned or about to be condemned and that can affect homeowner equity and lead to criminal activity and health risks.
“Really what we’re trying to do is shore up these communities,” Hall said.
Besides Anderson County, the other counties eligible for the funding are Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Montgomery, and Shelby. They haven’t completely recovered from the housing crisis of 2008-2009, Hall said.
There is currently $10 million available through the program, Hall said, with up to $25,000 per property. That could be enough for between about 400 and 550 homes across the state, depending upon the average cost per home. The funding pays for demolition, “greening,” inspections and title costs, and maintaining the green space for three years.
THDA finances the demolitions using federal funds and a 0 percent loan that is forgivable after three years, when a property lien is released.
So far, there have been several demolitions in Shelby County in West Tennessee and one in Chattanooga, with another one expected, Hall said.
She said the Oak Ridge Land Bank, which can accept property donations or buy homes, is one of a handful in Tennessee.
Anderson County wasn’t originally included in the program, but officials knew the local issues and that Oak Ridge had a land bank so they went back to the U.S. Treasury to see if the county could be included, Hall said.
Oak Ridge officials have said the HHF Blight Elimination Program is one of several steps being taken to help address housing, a long-term issue in Oak Ridge, at least in part because of the number of World War II-era homes in the city. Officials have said at least some of those homes were “built on the fly” during the Manhattan Project, when Oak Ridge was constructed to help build the world’s first atomic weapons. Many of them still stand today, although it’s not clear that they were meant to be permanent.
Besides the Land Bank and Blight Elimination Program, other steps cited by officials that are related to housing efforts include stepped-up codes enforcement, a new director of the Oak Ridge Housing Authority, an administrative hearing officer, and a Tennessee Valley Authority Extreme Makeover program.
“All of these pieces are starting to come together,” Jernigan said.
Here’s THDA’s press release on Wednesday’s home demolition
The Oak Ridge Land Bank demolished its first home under the state’s Blight Elimination Program Wednesday morning.
A demolition crew leveled the abandoned house at 678 West Outer Drive in order to protect the safety of families in the neighborhood, as well as their property values.
“The families in this neighborhood have taken good care of their own homes, and it’s through no fault of their own that they find themselves on the same street as an abandoned home that’s hurting their property values and quality of life,” said Ralph M. Perrey, executive director of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. “Those are the people this program was designed to protect.”
THDA launched the Blight Elimination Program in 2016 with $6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund, which was created to stabilize neighborhoods and prevent foreclosures.
THDA says it is aggressively partnering with nonprofits and land banks to provide them with funding to tear down eyesores that are attracting crime and dragging down property values in otherwise strong neighborhoods. The Oak Ridge Land Bank has already acquired 15 properties that may qualify for the Blight Elimination Program.
Under the Blight Elimination Program, land banks and qualified nonprofits can apply for loans of up to $25,000 to cover the cost of acquiring an abandoned home, demolishing it, and greening and maintaining the property. The lot can then be transformed into new affordable housing or another use approved by THDA for the stabilization of the surrounding neighborhood. THDA monitors the completion of each project and forgives the loan after three years, or sooner for certain uses.
Anderson County is one of six counties where Blight Elimination Program funds are currently available. The others are Knox, Hamilton, Shelby, Montgomery, and Rutherford.
“I would like to express my appreciation to THDA on behalf of the City of Oak Ridge for their support of our city’s housing initiatives,” said Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch when the Blight Elimination Program was expanded to Anderson County last July. “The city is grateful for the opportunity to move further ahead in the revitalization of our historic homes and neighborhoods.”
More than 7,000 of the city’s 14,000 residential structures date back to the World War II era and the city’s role in the Manhattan Project, a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons. Although the homes from that era were built for temporary use, many are still standing and occupied today, presenting the city with a unique challenge when battling blighted and dilapidated structures.
Oak Ridge established its Land Bank Corporation in 2013 to develop programs and partnerships that promote owner-occupied housing, new home ownership, and encourage private investment. The Land Bank gives the city the ability to acquire residential and commercial property that creates a stabilizing impact on adjacent properties and neighborhoods, while at the same time establishing a streamlined procedure for providing tax benefits and incentives for residents and absentee owners to consider dedicating property.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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