Antioch has been given $4 million by the federal government to deal with its significant housing foreclosure problem, but city officials consider the money a drop in the bucket for what's needed and aren't happy with how at least half of the money must be spent.
Antioch currently has more than 3,300 properties either in pre-foreclosure, bank-owned or up for auction. The City of Antioch is one of the hardest-hit communities in the foreclosure crisis, a city staff report stated. Inflated home prices, readjusted high-interest rates and predatory lending practices have paved the way for this city's worst real estate condition.
As a result, Antioch, along with Richmond and unincorporated areas of the county, has qualified for money from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department's Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
Antioch officials have 18 months to figure out how best to spend the $4 million, with the provision that most of it is used to acquire and redevelop abandoned and foreclosed residential properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight, according to the report by Housing Coordinator Janet Kennedy.
She proposed using $2 million of the money in a revolving fund to buy and rehabilitate 10 houses initially, with the possibility of more if the funds are recycled through the sale of the improved properties.
In addition, $600,000 would be used to buy and rehabilitate four or more self-help homes for low-income residents; more than $900,000 would be spent to help low-income renters; $120,000 would provide down payment assistance; and slightly more than $400,000 would go toward administering the funds.
At the Nov. 18 council meeting, Councilman Reggie Moore said $2 million to purchase and rehabilitate 10 homes, when there are more than 3,000 in or about to be in foreclosure, seems like a very small amount. If the city could help just 10 percent of these distressed properties, that would still leave more than 300 homes in need of funds, he added.
Councilman Brian Kalinowski said he's concerned about possible legal liability that the city might incur by buying, fixing up and selling houses.
Kennedy said that the city doesn't want to get into the property ownership and management business, and would be working with Pittsburg, Richmond and county officials to see about sharing resources to jointly improve troubled properties.
Moore also said that spending $120,000 to assist prospective buyers with down payments doesn't seem to get us very far. To get the goal of home ownership and productive, tax-paying members of the community, there's a win-win for all. To assist in that process would be a top priority, not only equal to or greater than rehabilitation. I'm very hopeful this council will direct a shift in funds.
Councilman Arne Simonsen pointed out that home sales have been picking up lately due to the lower housing prices, which has drawn down the surplus of homes on the market. He suggested that city staff meet with local realtors to gain their input on how best to spend the housing assistance money.
City resident Ken Lee said city officials need to do more to keep loiterers out of foreclosed houses by boarding up windows and placing alarms at entryways as well as maintaining the landscaping so that abandoned properties don't stand out in a neighborhood.
Another resident, Bernice Watts, urged the council to focus on helping people like herself buy a home. I've been trying to buy a home for a year now, she said. The bulk of the homes that are foreclosed are not in good shape inside; they are stripped in some cases. They are all in bad shape and very bad disrepair.
I'm sure that there are people who would like to move into these homes, but they are not aware of the opportunity here. The whole purpose is not to have the homes vacant. It's to give people who want to own a home and live in them and take care of it an opportunity to do so.
Kennedy told the council there is some flexibility in how the city can spend the HUD money, but due to the strings attached to the funds, the primary objective is to purchase and improve blighted properties.
The council voted unanimously to direct Kennedy to implement the program. The city has four years to spend the money.