June 28, 2019 10:20:01 AM
When the city of Columbus sent letters to 27 homeowners whose properties were severely damaged by the Feb. 23 tornado informing them that they had until Monday to respond with their plans to rebuild, repair or demolish their properties, it was viewed by some as adding insult to injury.
While federal money is being provided to repair or replace public buildings damaged by the storm, there are, to date at least, no public funds available to provide that kind of assistance to private property owners.
That has proven to be a crippling blow, since the tornado damage fell heavily in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Many of the homeowners did not have proper insurance, which means they have to cover the costs themselves. In most cases, the costs are staggering for low-income homeowners.
The last thing these folks need is additional expenses.
There can be little doubt that these homeowners need help, no matter what course of action they hope to pursue.
In fairness to the city, the perception in this case is not what it might appear to be.
What the city is asking for is not only reasonable, but necessary.
City officials are right on one important point: These properties cannot long remain in their current state. Left unaddressed, the properties can quickly become a public safety issue. They can also depress home values throughout the community, creating a blight that will discourage new construction and the prospects for future growth.
What the city is asking is that homeowners present a plan for what they intend to do. They will be given 45 days to show progress on their plans. Residents also have the option of allowing the city to demolish properties at the homeowners expense.
There are two important things that should be noted.
First, the city is not requiring that the work be completed in 45 days. It is asking that homeowners announce their intentions and begin work toward that effort.
Second, those familiar with the city's approach to "nuisance properties," understand that, historically, the city has been very lenient with property owners. At almost every council meeting, property owners are routinely granted extensions for putting their property in order.
There is no reason to believe that the city will not show similar restraint in this case.
Of course, the biggest challenge for many affected homeowners is finding the funds needed to comply with the city's requirements.
Fortunately, there are charities and non-profits that are in a position to help. United Methodist Committee on Relief and Community Recovery of Lowndes County are both working under the umbrella of the United Way of Lowndes County. Call the United Way at 662-328-0943 for ways to help or to seek assistance.
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