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Property mapping could be potential tool as Columbia looks to transform vacant lots


Columbia leaders attended the Vacant Property Leadership Institute earlier this month, and the organization hosting that conference said changes will be dependent on the momentum a city can get to work towards its goals.

Justin Godard, associate director of national leadership and education at the Center for Community Progress, said immediately following the conference, cities should be having discussions about how to move forward.

"Everybody needs to be at the table: nonprofits, resident leaders, local elected officials, local department leaders," Godard said. "Really, it's a group effort to get at solving vacancy."

Columbia Neighborhood Services Director Leigh Kottwitz told ABC 17 News earlier this month that mapping out vacant lots and determining their impact on the city would likely be one of the next steps.

Love Columbia Program Director Conrad Hake -- who also attended the conference -- said he thinks property mapping could be a useful tool to allow more sustainable housing and keep houses from falling into vacancy. He said the maps could help spot properties heading towards vacancy, and determine what support may be needed.

"That's where our interest is at Love Columbia, is how can we help some of these properties become affordable housing or not fall to the point where they become vacant properties so that we have enough affordable housing for our community," Hake said.

In other communities who attended the Vacant Property Leadership Institute, Godard said property mapping has sometime taken six-months-to-three-years to implement after leaders return from the conference, depending on how in-depth the map goes.

He encourages cities to look at their capacity for the task, and said oftentimes communities will work with residents looking to better their own neighborhood.

"We have seen communities say, 'Hey, this is a great opportunity for us to begin building those relationships with our communities or strengthening our community relationships, so we will work with residents to not only hire them, but also provide them training to be able to help us map these out,'" Godard said.

Godard said once completed, maps would need to be maintained, saying cities tend to do surveys or visit the properties to keep the list updated atleast once a year. Hake said this community involvement would not be invasive, but rather be street-level assessments.

"That kind of level of engagement at a community level is a great opportunity for everyone to play a role in helping to improve the quality of the neighborhood that they live in," Hake said.

Along with property mapping, Hake said other ideas Love Columbia likes includes land banks, code enforcement and solving tangle titles, which is when an heir to an estate isn't clear. He said the organization has worked with Mid-Missouri Legal Services to try to untangle some titles.

He said he doesn't see vacant properties as an issue in Columbia, but more so an opportunity for affordable housing.

"The more we bring everybody together, I think that we're actually going to see some progress," Hake said.

Hake said it will be up to the city to determine funding priorities, but he's hopeful the city will want to move forward on some projects to transform vacant lots seeing as it invested in sending staff to the Vacant Property Leadership Institute.

He said a report is going to the Affordable Housing Coalition next week, and to City Council next month.

Godard said transforming vacant lots into affordable housing is a realistic goal. He said potential challenges will be things like repairing properties and ownership issues.

While it's up to individual communities to determine what works best, he said land banks might be a helpful resource.

"It will take not just city funds, but funds in general in order to move these properties from this state of vacancy to a state of vibrancy," Godard said. "However, I think it's important to preface that by saying that if we leave those properties as is, they are still costing a lot of money."

Article Topic Follows: Columbia City Government
affordable housing

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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