Friday, August 13, 2010

TOP STORY > >City officials visit Ft. Smith for ideas

Special to The Leader

On a bus heading for Fort Smith on Thursday, Jacksonville leaders looked for ways to rebuild their city’s blighted areas from the ground up.

“The trip reaffirmed to me that what I wanted to do by replacing old homes with new ones is a doable project,” said Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

At the same time, Fletcher’s trip made him thankful for being a mayor from a smaller city with smaller housing challenges. He said Fort Smith is three to four times bigger than Jacksonville.

The tour took Jacksonville officials to Fort Smith’s Ragon housing development, which included razing between 40 and 50 houses at a time.

Fletcher wants to raze three dilapidated houses in the Sunnyside Addition and construct two houses on the three lots.

The Jacksonville Housing Authority is also seeking federal grant money to build new houses in the Meadows Subdivision in the Cloverdale Road area off Hwy. 161 South.

Jim Durham, head of city administration, said about 55 brick houses could be built in the Meadows Subdivision for around $10 million.

Durham said $750,000 of a $1 million grant will be earmarked for the Sunnyside Addition’s revitalization project, and the remaining $250,000 is set aside for a sewer project to meet the needs of the JHA’s Meadows housing project.

“The Arkansas Finance Devel-opment Authority must approve our application,” said Phil Nix, Jacksonville Housing Authority executive director. “We’re still in the infant stages and this could be a stir that may not come to pass.”

Competition appears to be stiff for such grants. So far, 38 applications are seeking approval from that agency, according to Nix.

Nix said if the funding is approved, he plans to announce the project’s specifications and guidelines to qualify for those new homes.

While in Fort Smith, Fletcher saw a new home with all appliances listed for $98,000, which an individual making $28,000 a year could purchase. One detail could deter such a purchase.

“You’d have to have an almost perfect credit rating,” Fletcher said.

Despite that hurdle, Fletcher mused about the differences between renting and home ownership.

He believes an individual who is purchasing a home develops more “self-pride” in maintaining the house as well as its property.

Ideas will be definitely flowing from this Fort Smith bus trip, he said.

Another type of neighborhood, which is not a usual sight for Jacksonville residents, caught Fletcher’s eye during the tour. It was a mixture of two-story duplexes and single-family houses in the same area. He thought it could work well in Jacksonville.

Durham found new ways to apply for grants, including joining with Cabot and Sherwood when applying for a grant. Fort Smith’s Vice Mayor Gary Campbell told the visitors, “Rising tides raise all ships.”