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Peachtree Hills to get help from city

The City Council on Monday took its boldest step yet to address Charlotte's foreclosure problem: It agreed to spend almost half a million dollars to help rehabilitate a subdivision blighted by vacant, boarded-up homes.

The vote was unanimous, but it came after questions about the city's role. A real estate investor argued officials should let the market settle out rather than use tax dollars to intervene. And a council member wondered whether focusing on one neighborhood would shortchange others.

The city will spend $449,000 as part of an $3.4 million effort to encourage homeownership in Peachtree Hills, a northwest neighborhood where a glut of foreclosures has left remaining residents vulnerable to vandalism and other crime.

Self-Help, a Durham-based nonprofit organization, will pay for most of the project. It plans to buy as many as 25 properties in Peachtree Hills and start a lease-purchase program for new homeowners.

The idea is unusual, housing experts say, and seems tailored to Charlotte's specific type of foreclosure problem – relatively new subdivisions where foreclosures have snowballed. Of Peachtree Hills' 147 homes, at least 42 have gone through foreclosure or been owned by a bank since 2003, according to county property records.

The 5-year-old community is one in a swath of northwest Charlotte starter-home neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Self-Help found Peachtree Hills suitable for its program, however, because the neighborhood is not too far gone – it still has enough homeowners to form a strong foundation.

The organization and city officials hope the program will be a model.

“We're looking at this as a pilot program,” said Stanley Watkins, Charlotte's neighborhood development director. “If it works, maybe we can replicate it.”

The city's contribution will include lighting, sidewalks and landscaping – standard public services. But the city also has agreed to spend as much as $10,000 per home rehabilitating the houses purchased by Self-Help.

Kevin Pfannes, a local real estate investor who spoke at the meeting Monday, argued against the city's participation in buying and rehabilitating homes. He said the city would be spending taxpayer money to compete in the private market.

“We've already got a private pool of people that are willing to do that,” he said, urging the city to focus on code enforcement and other more traditional roles. “It takes a little time.”

But Richard Payne, a project manager at Self-Help, said investors didn't seem interested in Peachtree Hills.

City Council member John Lassiter said private investors were not likely to increase homeownership in Peachtree Hills. He said they would only bring more renters, and could make the problems worse.

Watkins said the money that will go to Peachtree Hills is taken from other programs citywide, but wouldn't have a dramatic impact on neighborhood services.

On the other hand, he said, the surge of investment into Peachtree Hills could save it.

“Our intent is to get that neighborhood back to stabilization as quickly as possible,” he said.

The City Council on Monday took its boldest step yet to address Charlotte's foreclosure problem: It agreed to spend almost half a million dollars to help rehabilitate a subdivision blighted by vacant, boarded-up homes.

The vote was unanimous, but it came after questions about the city's role. A real estate investor argued officials should let the market settle out rather than use tax dollars to intervene. And a council member wondered whether focusing on one neighborhood would shortchange others.

The city will spend $449,000 as part of an $3.4 million effort to encourage homeownership in Peachtree Hills, a northwest neighborhood where a glut of foreclosures has left remaining residents vulnerable to vandalism and other crime.

Self-Help, a Durham-based nonprofit organization, will pay for most of the project. It plans to buy as many as 25 properties in Peachtree Hills and start a lease-purchase program for new homeowners.

The idea is unusual, housing experts say, and seems tailored to Charlotte's specific type of foreclosure problem – relatively new subdivisions where foreclosures have snowballed. Of Peachtree Hills' 147 homes, at least 42 have gone through foreclosure or been owned by a bank since 2003, according to county property records.

The 5-year-old community is one in a swath of northwest Charlotte starter-home neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Self-Help found Peachtree Hills suitable for its program, however, because the neighborhood is not too far gone – it still has enough homeowners to form a strong foundation.

The organization and city officials hope the program will be a model.

“We're looking at this as a pilot program,” said Stanley Watkins, Charlotte's neighborhood development director. “If it works, maybe we can replicate it.”

The city's contribution will include lighting, sidewalks and landscaping – standard public services. But the city also has agreed to spend as much as $10,000 per home rehabilitating the houses purchased by Self-Help.

Kevin Pfannes, a local real estate investor who spoke at the meeting Monday, argued against the city's participation in buying and rehabilitating homes. He said the city would be spending taxpayer money to compete in the private market.

“We've already got a private pool of people that are willing to do that,” he said, urging the city to focus on code enforcement and other more traditional roles. “It takes a little time.”

But Richard Payne, a project manager at Self-Help, said investors didn't seem interested in Peachtree Hills.

City Council member John Lassiter said private investors were not likely to increase homeownership in Peachtree Hills. He said they would only bring more renters, and could make the problems worse.

Watkins said the money that will go to Peachtree Hills is taken from other programs citywide, but wouldn't have a dramatic impact on neighborhood services.

On the other hand, he said, the surge of investment into Peachtree Hills could save it.

“Our intent is to get that neighborhood back to stabilization as quickly as possible,” he said.

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