A new agreement with Riverways Federal Credit Union for a loan program to improve properties in designated Salem neighborhoods was approved by the board of aldermen at its Dec. 2 meeting.
Improvements can include weatherization and energy efficiency projects, exterior property maintenance and repairs, beautification of the property, sidewalk, curbing or driveway repairs or improvements, erosion control, interior safety improvements, utility upgrades and improvements to roofs, gutters and exterior painting.
The agreement requires a one-time payment of $20,000 by the city into a loan loss reserve to allow Riverways to leverage lending in Salem to maintain and improve affordable housing under Riverways Welcome Home Program.
The city and Riverways also agreed to establish a Welcome Home advisory board whose sole purpose is to identify a neighborhood where improvements would take place for each round of the program as it moves forward.
Riverways agreed to work with low-income households that don’t qualify for loans in the designated neighborhood to help them accomplish weatherization improvements through South Central Community Action Agency weatherization and housing improvement programs.
Economic development director Sally Burbridge said the program seeks to make housing conditions in Salem better. It’s a program a regular bank would not be able to enter into, but Riverways is a non-profit credit union and governed by different rules, she said.
“Scott (Shults, president and CEO of Riverways) had the idea as a way to improve the community,” Burbridge told the board. “We talked a lot about the conditions of some of our properties and our homes in the community and this is a way to address it.”
Her office in the city administration building is near where utility bills are paid.
“I get to see what happens in the utility section and get to hear what’s going on,” she said. “I kept hearing the families with high utility bills and their struggles and how many disconnects and shutoffs we have all the time. And I kept thinking there’s got to be a way we can address this.”
She explained that a neighborhood will be chosen based on its youth population and incidence of homes with high utility bills where weatherization is needed.
“The other goal is to improve property values in the community,” she said. Individual home improvements might not increase property values if neighboring properties are in disrepair, she noted.
“But if you’re doing a neighborhood all at the same time, that whole street or block’s values improve. So it’s not just the random scattergun effect. We have a chance at having some real impact on improving home values and long term wealth of some of our families if they have better home values.”
She said the agreement is more than a proposal from Riverways.
“There was some give and take (with the city) and it meets some goals for us and me as an economic developer,” she said. “So, we worked out this agreement.”
Alderman Kim Steelman voiced her support for the program and its effect on housing.
“This is why I think this is so great, and I love to see community partners and just everybody working together,” she said.
She commended Shults and Burbridge for their work on the agreement.
The new agreement was voted down at the Nov. 18 meeting pending a review of both the old and new agreements by city attorney James Weber. At that time, alderman Rachel Hinderliter voted for it but aldermen Kenneth Nash and Kevin James voted no, saying a review was needed. Steelman was absent that night. The review was completed, and Walden recommended approval at last week’s meeting.
The board also approved the following appointments to the Welcome Home Program advisory board: Shults, city administrator Ray Walden, Burbridge, Sherman Odom and Todd Kinerk.
In other business:
• planning & zoning commission chairman Gary Brown reported on the public hearing held Nov. 21 on adding meaderies as a permitted use in commercial zones to the city code. No one spoke against the proposal at the hearing, he said, but the commission lacked a quorum and was unable to vote on a recommendation. Adding wineries and microbreweries as permitted uses was also discussed.
Brown said commissioners also heard from nuisance officer Jarred Brown about changes that could be made to P&Z codes regarding nuisances. At his suggestion, members are currently reading the 2018 international zoning codes, the chairman said.
• in his report, Walden said several sections of code book discuss relationships between nuisances, especially those that relate to buildings and P&Z, and may need to be updated along with nuisance ordinances.
He also said there had been a delay in reviewing results of the recent nuisance survey with the new city attorney due to the transition but that a recommendation, including input from the St. Louis law firm that wrote updated nuisance ordinances, is coming soon.
• Walden has submitted a draft variance report to DNR regarding the wastewater treatment plant that is now open for public comment. When the comment period ends, he said, “We’ll present DNR’s response and any impact it would have on our future plant upgrades at a future workshop or meeting. Anything that would need to be completed before the end of June 2021 would have impact on next year’s budget.”
• Walden introduced new parks & recreation director Melissa DuBois, whose report included information on the new soccer complex site, which is the old fairgrounds property.
“I’m so excited about it,” she said. “We met with (city engineer) Archer Elgin to kind of get a rundown of what they would charge to give us a map and see what the layout would be.”
She toured the property with public works director Mark Nash, and they found an old building with bad plumbing and inhabited only by wildlife.
“The recommendation was that it would be easier to tear it down and start new than rehab what’s there,” she said.