The City of Sumter’s Fight Against Blight

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Posted by Joseph T. McElveen, Jr. Friday, October 28, 2016 10:24:00 AM Categories: Blight community development Mayor's Minute public safety Sumter Pride vacant property

As a municipality experiences expansion and growth, urban decay often follows. Even a small city like ours suffers from blight. However, Sumter has made great strides to curb the threat of urban decay, and we are handling the issue in proactive ways.

 

Dilapidated structures are not only an eyesore but they pose a real threat to our quality of life. Regardless of the reason for a structure becoming uninhabitable, a city must find ways to eliminate blight.

 

Vacant and abandoned properties place a tremendous burden on community resources and they become impediments to economic development and growth.  They frequently become a breeding ground for criminal behavior. Further, urban blight can demoralize entire neighborhoods, leading to depopulation and despair.

 

Because of the potential burdens of urban blight, the City of Sumter has embraced smart growth strategies that include the removal of blighted properties in the City limits. Over the last fifteen years, Sumter has identified properties that cannot be salvaged by enhancing building codes that more readily identify dilapidated properties.

 

Through our Abandoned and Dilapidated Housing Demolition Program, we have removed hundreds of dilapidated structures to help make our city safer and more livable. Our efforts in these areas include:

 

Sumter Pride Program: Owners of dilapidated buildings are charged $400 for the City to demolish a residential structure that meets demolition standards (fire hazard, structurally compromised, in danger of collapse). Property owners retain all ownership rights under this program.  Pride focuses on deteriorating areas of the city, but the entire community benefits from the decrease in blight.

 

The Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP): This program focuses specifically on the demolition of blighted and unsafe structures in the City limits. Under the NIP, the City and the Santee-Lynches Regional Development Corporation (SLRDC) purchase the property, demolish the blighted structure, and maintain the property for 3 years for future re-development.

 

Code and Ordinance Enforcements: As we said, the City has made great strides in demolition of blighted properties by having property owners adhere to a strict set of Property Maintenance Ordinances and Code Violation rules. By enforcing these codes and ordinances, we ensure that dilapidated and blighted structures are properly maintained and secure as well as free of junk storage, illegal dumping, motor vehicle parking and overgrowth.

 

As City staff works diligently with neighborhood groups and law enforcement to enforce these ordinances, our neighborhoods become safer and more livable and property values increase. The results of our collective efforts are transformative. Since 2001, Sumter Pride has targeted and demolished nearly 400 homes considered uninhabitable according to codes. Although we are proud of that number, there may be some properties we have missed. Running a successful city involves many moving parts, and we look to our citizens to notify us of any properties that we have neglected to identify as dilapidated or uninhabitable.

 

On the redevelopment side, we have worked diligently led to enhance our historic Downtown, investing in streetscape and façade improvements that add to our overall quality of life. Rehabilitation was the inspiration as we transformed a mid-century commercial structure that had fallen into disrepair into a state-of-the-art nursing school. That rehabilitation proved to be a catalyst for further economic development along Main Street. In the last few years, we have also seen the rise of new retail and restaurants, a planned hotel, the growth of our popular Downtown Market, the continued rehabilitation of our historic Opera House and a huge increase in pedestrian traffic.

 

Unfortunately, there is little or no state or federal funding to help us in our efforts, but we hope to work with local builders and investors to both redevelop historic structures and enhance areas where blighted properties are to be removed. By working together with citizens who care about our City’s future, we can continue to make smart growth choices that benefit everyone.

 

We are also proud to note that our collective efforts to fight blight have been recognized by several notable organizations.

 

Sumter Pride has been honored by the Municipal Association of South Carolina and has received a $3.4 million Neighborhood Initiatives Program grant from the South Carolina State Housing Authority. The grant will allow the City to acquire and demolish an additional 100 dilapidated properties in our ongoing efforts to bolster and empower all neighborhoods.

 

In another statewide recognition, our Abandoned and Dilapidated Housing Demolition Program was recently awarded the 2016 Outstanding Planning Project of the year from the South Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association (SCAPA). Specifically, the award recognized our expanded codes enforcement division, our recent NIP grant, our revised property maintenance code and the adoption of our new vacant housing registry ordinance.

 

In a national recognition of our efforts, the City of Sumter was also a Top 20 finalist in the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ City Livability Awards, a program that honors city governments for developing programs that enhance the quality of life in urban areas.

 

By removing blighted properties and rehabilitating others in Sumter, the City is striving to create an atmosphere that will help us prosper and grow. Our goal is to make the safest, most livable city possible for our citizens and to create a place that is inviting for new residents, new businesses and the countless visitors who recognize our authentic hometown pride.

 

To see the full impact of our efforts, the City has an online map showing the locations of all dilapidated properties that have been removed (http://www.sumtersc.gov/Data/Sites/1/media/departments/planning/maps/blight-removal-maps.pdf). It’s exciting to share this “big picture” view of our efforts to remove blight and to see how surrounding areas have been affected in such a positive way. Looking forward, the City has also completed an updated inventory of other dilapidated properties that are due for demolition in the near future.  

 

We have also increased the number of codes enforcement officers over the last 15 years from two to seven but they rarely have the time to patrol the city looking for problems. That’s where we need the watchful eye of concerned citizens to alert us to any properties we may have missed. If you have a concern about any aspect of urban blight in our City or would like to alert us of any properties that have fallen into disrepair, please call us at 803-774-1602.

 

Working together on these issues, we all benefit from a clean, safe city and one that puts blight out of sight for good.