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Denison Moving Forward With Creating Quality Neighborhoods
The City of Denison is excited to share details about successful programs aimed at creating quality neighborhoods. The City Council established a vision for Denison to become the community of choice by creating an excellent quality of life: “Within thirty (30) years, the City of Denison will be known as a thriving, regional leader that other communities strive to be like, and where people consciously decide to live and locate their businesses. It will be a be a beautiful city, with quality, well maintained housing for all income levels. It will serve as a regional employment center and provide a rich and varied shopping experience. It will be a community that offers regionally renowned parks and recreation facilities and it will be well know for enjoying an excellent quality of life.”
To help accomplish the City’s vision, multiple programs have been implemented since 2010 focused on creating affordable housing, addressing neighborhood blight, improving property values, and encouraging investment in existing housing. “The City’s vision to become a community of choice is the focus of all we do,” remarked Mayor Janet Gott. “We are committed to creating quality neighborhoods and have many tools available and community partners to help move us forward. These have been successful programs and we are excited to share the progress that has been made.”
Affordable Housing Program
Denison’s Affordable Housing Program started on June 16, 2014 to assist low- to moderate-income individuals and families purchase new homes and to redevelop areas around downtown that have historically not been attractive to builders. In 2016, the City received statewide recognition for the program by receiving a Municipal Excellence Award from the Texas Municipal League. The program provides builders with free building lots, attractive financing through local banks, relaxed building and zoning regulations, and other incentives. In addition, qualified home-buyers partner with local lenders for attractive financing terms that have helped turn many people into first-time home owners.
Since inception, the Affordable Housing Program has been responsible for the construction of nearly eighty (80) homes sold in the $115,000 to $125,000 price range. “We are proud to have been a part of the Affordable Housing Program here in Denison. The city made such an exciting and progressive decision when it implemented the programming that was designed to not only offer needed improvements to our community but provide home buyers with an opportunity to get into a brand new, quality home for an incredible price point,” said Josh Holley, owner of Holley Jolly Homes.
The City has now given away all the available lots in the program and plans to meet with home builders soon to modify the program to reflect current housing market conditions. “Home prices have continued to rise in Denison and we want to make sure we are providing housing for all income levels,” stated City Manager, Judson Rex. “Adjustments to our Affordable Housing Program are needed to keep it relevant.”
The success of the Affordable Housing Program has jump-started other new investment throughout Denison’s core neighborhoods. In the last two years alone, more than 100 new homes have been constructed with selling prices between $130,000 and $150,000. These homes provide an affordable price point for buyers and add bring new life to established neighborhoods. “It’s almost impossible to drive around Denison and not see new life being injected into our older neighborhoods,” remarked Mayor Gott.
Unsafe Structure Demolition Program
The Demolition Program kicked off in 2010 addressing dilapidated, unsafe, and unfit structures. The program has removed blight and fire hazards from neighborhoods across Denison. To date, the city has demolished 417 unsafe structures through the program. After demolition, many of the lots have been redeveloped with new homes, changing the landscape of these neighborhoods. The City continues to actively work this program and expects to continue removing 40 to 50 unsafe buildings annually. In addition, several large-scale, blighted buildings have been removed in recent years including the former Madonna Hospital, Central Ward School, Cornerstone Church, and, most recently, the office building located at 2301 South Austin Avenue. “Addressing and removing blight is a key part of our quality neighborhoods initiative,” commented Robert Lay, Code Compliance Manager. “We encourage residents to let us know when they see dilapidated structures in their neighborhood. Our commitment is to improve the quality of our neighborhoods and we need all eyes on Denison to do so.”
Minimum Property Standards
In 2012, the City Council adopted the Minimum Property Standards program which establishes minimum requirements for the exterior of homes and other buildings. The standards address important components of a building including siding, roof, paint, woodwork, and windows. Assistance is available through the City for income-qualifying property owners. “Assisting a home owner to meet the minimum property standards helps not only the owner, but also improves the look of the entire street,” added Mr. Lay. The Code Compliance Division has successfully completed 552 minimum property standards cases since the program’s inception. While Code Compliance staff work based on resident complaints, they proactively monitor the major streets and corridors throughout Denison in an effort to improve the City’s overall appearance.
Renovation Incentive Program
In October 2017, the City implemented the Renovation Incentive Program to encourage significant improvements to existing houses stock. Owners receive incentives including no-cost permits, reduced-price roll-off dumpsters, sales tax rebates on building materials, and City-provided sidewalk improvements. More importantly, a cash incentive is paid out after improvements have been completed and property appraisals adjusted. Owners must invest at least $40,000 into the renovation and the greater the investment, the greater the cash incentive. For example, a $40,000 investment would bring a cash incentive of over $2,500 at the end of the project.
“We want to encourage owners to invest in older homes which dot our established neighborhoods,” stated Mr. Rex. “The incentives are significant, and the program has already been very successful.” To date, seventy-four (74) homes have been approved for the program with a total investment of over $4 million.
Public Investment in Streets and Neighborhood Parks
The City has also dedicated funds to improve streets in established areas and improve neighborhood parks. “In addition to encouraging private investment, the City is doing its part to invest in public areas like streets and parks,” remarked Kimberly Murray, Director of Community and Development Services. “Improving public spaces like our many parks is an important piece of creating quality neighborhoods.”
Improvements have been made to MLK Park including an original mural, a dedication plaque, new fencing, resurfaced and renovated basketball court, a merry-go-round, refurbished horseshoe pits, grill and benches. Hopkins Park has a new pavilion, swings, refurbished monkey bars and new benches. Parks are an important quality of life attraction for current residents and people looking to move into the community. More than $1 million has been invested in existing parks in the last five years.
Additionally, the City has spent over $3 million since 2016 improving neighborhood streets with new asphalt overlay, micro-paving, and other repair work. By leveraging federal funds through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the City was able to spend in a single year more than $1.5 million on new pavement in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. With the CDBG program, more than 21 lane-miles of street work was completed, and nearly 6 blocks of streets were completely rebuilt. Moving forward, the City plans to invest nearly $700,000 annually in street and sidewalk improvements and the City Council is working now on a five-year plan to invest more than $20 million to rebuild major streets. “We hear from the community all the time that streets are a priority and I can tell you that we are on it,” exclaimed Mayor Gott. “We have done a lot over the past several years and we will be doing much more in the years to come.”
Next Steps Moving Forward
With so much success in its quality neighborhood programs, the City recently announced moving forward with a new program geared at improving the quality of rental housing in the community. “The Rental Registration and Inspection Program is the next step to continue moving forward with our vision to create a community of choice with an excellent quality of life,” added Mayor Gott. “This program will ensure that we offer quality rental property throughout the city.” The City Council will hear an update on the proposed program at their meeting on June 3. Additionally, individuals interested in the program are invited to learn more at a Community Forum planned for Thursday, June 20 at 6:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall located at 300 West Main Street. A presentation on the proposed Rental Registration and Inspection Program will be provided, followed by a Q & A session. Residents and property owners are strongly encouraged to attend to help the City shape implementation of the program.