Mayor William Bell announced Thursday that the city would work with Habitat for Humanity to eliminate blight from abandoned properties. The announcement follows Alabama Housing Finance Authority’s allotting $25 million in federal grants to Habitat’s Birmingham chapter through the Hardest Hit Program.
“The city of Birmingham is partnering with Habitat for Humanity in order to advance the goal of blight removal, which is part of the RISE program,” Bell said at a press conference.
RISE, which stands for Remove blight, Increase values, Strengthen neighborhoods and Empower residents, is Birmingham’s strategy to reduce the number of abandoned, tax-delinquent properties within the city.
Bell noted that RISE is a nationally recognized program, even garnering praise from Harvard University for the innovative strategies used to tackle poverty and blight.
With this partnership, Bell hopes to use various agencies connected with the RISE program, such as the Birmingham Land Bank Authority, and utilize the funding which being made available through Habitat for Humanity.
“Being the largest municipality in Alabama, we have a very well established blight removal program. Other cities in the southeast will be looking to Birmingham on how to further their efforts and leverage partnerships to accomplish broad goals within their community,” Bell continued.
The grant issued by the Alabama Housing Finance Authority is not limited to Birmingham and funds will be used throughout the state. However, Bell said Birmingham is a good place to start given the recent strides the city has made to repurpose abandoned properties and buildings.
Over the next few months, Bell said, the city will be working closely with Habitat for Humanity and sharing data on which houses and properties will be available for purchase and demolition. John Colon, Birmingham’s director of community development, said there are currently about 300 houses in Birmingham slated for demolition.
Bell said he hopes this partnership will allow and aid Habitat for Humanity’s efforts to build affordable housing on some abandoned properties.
“Effectively leveraging a public and private partnership for the strategic advancement of our communities through stabilization measures, the city anticipates, in coordination with this effort, additional agreements to be put in place in the near future for rehabbing structural housing,” Bell said.
“I’m certainly grateful for the Alabama Housing Finance Authority for selecting Habitat [for Humanity] to be the trustee of this funding,” said Charles Moore, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Birmingham. “We’re very excited about getting started here in Birmingham. There is certainly a lot to do here.”
Moore said they are not just interested in tearing down dilapidated housing, but also to improve and revitalize neighborhoods.
Colon said the process should begin in the next few weeks and that the framework of the plan has been in place for some time awaiting funding. “Now that we have a funding source, we can implement the plans that we’ve been working on with the RISE program,” Colon said.
“Yeah, we’re ready to go get started right now. You guys are holding us up,” Bell joked to the group of reporters gathered at city hall.
The program has the potential to do a lot of good in the city, Moore said. “To have this type of infusion, it’s a real shot in the arm that the city of Birmingham needed,” he said.