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Battling the blight: City uses federal grants to rehabilitate neighborhoods

Government officials in Thomson and McDuffie County would like nothing better than to raze all of the dilapidated houses that have become eyesores in various areas of the city and county.

And though that isn't realistic at this time, officials are making noticeable progress in at least two local neighborhoods. And they vow to do the same thing in other neighborhoods in the future.

Aside from housing improvements, workers are also adding new curbs, gutters and sidewalks and repaving streets in certain neighborhoods.

For years, neighborhoods in the Pitts Street and Strawberry Hill sections of Thomson have been in desperate need of housing rehabilitation, street paving, curbs and sidewalks.

Finally, help has arrived.

It comes in the way of a $1 million-plus Community Development Block Grant, as well as CHIP funding through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

There are nine houses scheduled for rehab construction in the Pitts Street neighborhood and another 13 slated for such work in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood, according to Thomson City Administrator Don Powers. A portion of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood is in the city limits, while the other part lies in McDuffie County.

"We want to use this rehabilitation opportunity to develop permanent and safe living places for families in Thomson," Mr. Powers said. "We hope that the improvements that are being made in these neighborhoods will be ones that last for years to come."

At the same time, he and other city and county officials are hopeful that those who own property in those neighborhoods will want to make improvements, too.

"We're hoping that those who own rental housing in these neighborhoods will see fit to take part in rehabbing their homes also," Mr. Powers said.

Mr. Powers said he believes such work will serve to stimulate other homeowners' investments in these neighborhoods.

The rehabilitation housing initiative began in 2006 when former city administrator Bob Flanders, with the blessings of city council members, applied for and received a CDBG in the amount of $780,000.

The funds were specifically earmarked for rehabilitation of houses and the rebuilding of infrastructure, related to streets, curbs and sidewalks.

Many of the areas in those neighborhoods have never had any sidewalks. And in the Pitts Street area, there is a large city park, which is used as practice fields for baseball and football. There also is playground equipment for smaller children available there, along with an outdoor basketball court.

"These kinds of improvements have been needed for years in these neighborhoods," Mr. Powers said. "We're pleased that we have received the federal funding through the state to have this kind of work done."

Web posted on Thursday, January 08, 2009

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