A plan to build or renovate 1,000 homes in the next six years will involve repairing over 550 residential properties east of Interstate 65 in Mobile, and the rehabilitation or construction of 275 rental units.
The plans were unveiled on Thursday by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson nearly two months after he first introduced the program during his “State of the City” address.
“This is to grow the population of the city of Mobile and reverse the trend of challenges that go along with blight,” Stimpson said. “If we can go back and re-establish the neighborhoods, there will be all kinds of benefits that can accrue from that.”
Under the plan, the city will utilize $15 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money and potentially $300,000 in city funds allocated by Mobile City Council President Levon Manzie to finance a program aimed at improving housing stock in some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The program will also be funded through a mix of tax credits, public-private partnerships, and financing through the Alabama Housing Finance Authority.
The majority of plan, or 83% of it, involves repairing existing owner-occupied houses or rehabilitating and constructing new rental units. The rest of the program includes assisting 200 first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance, rehabilitating 100 blighted or abandoned properties and constructing 30 new single-family homes on properties that the city controls.
“We feel comfortable with these numbers,” said Stimpson. “Our hope is this will grow.”
Similar neighborhood reinvestment programs have been rolled out in cities in recent years. Birmingham, in 2018, partnered with Shipt and DC BLOX to finance a program that included demolishing blighted structures and renovating homes.
In Mobile, the effort to revitalize its oldest neighborhoods comes at a time when the city, which is Alabama’s fourth-largest, has been losing population in recent years. Within the past 10 years, the Port City’s population dropped from 195,111 residents in 2010, to an estimated 188,720 in 2019. The city’s declining population comes as Huntsville, which has added over 20,000 new residents since 2010, is poised to overtake Birmingham as the state’s largest city within the next three years.
Stimpson and other Mobile officials backed a controversial annexation plan last year that ended up failing by one vote on the City Council. That plan would have annexed approximately 13,000 people west of the city limits and would have given Mobile a large enough population to at least temporarily call itself the second largest city in Alabama.
Stimpson acknowledged that the 1,000-home program is partly due to that annexation vote.
“But you also have to (address) blighted neighborhoods,” Stimpson said. “There are other things that go with it. They are high-crime areas, typically. So moving blight and having houses rehabilitated and families moving in will lessen the crime. You have the infrastructure built. It’s less expensive to be able to do that.”
The program also comes after the city identified, through a blight-track mapping program, 1,625 residential blighted properties in Mobile and proceeded to oversee a program that led to the removal of approximately 53% of them from 2016 to 2020. The city has also assisted over 190 people with down payment assistance since 2013.
James Roberts, the city’s senior director of neighborhood development, said the latest surveyed showed that the city had 770 blighted properties remaining.
Roberts said a website will be established to include more details about how people can apply for the housing or repairs. The program is aimed at providing affordable housing and residents have to meet certain income thresholds to qualify. In Mobile, that is around $49,100 for a family of four.
Roberts said the city receives around $2.5 million each year in community-development block grant money and $800,000 to $1 million in the Home Investment Partnership Program, which will go toward funding the program.
Roberts said the city is updating some features related to the program, and is directing anyone with interest in participating, such as contractors or developers, to contact community service analyst Shakeena Cox at 251-208-6290.