Rehabilitation on the docket for Oakdale

Although the township of Oakdale was first formed in 1858, it was not officially designated as a city until 1974. As with all established communities, it becomes necessary every so often to evaluate longstanding structures and consider the rehabilitation of commercial and private property.
Now, over 30 years since Oakdale’s incorporation, city officials are preparing for several programs that aim to do just that. At its final meeting of 2005, the City Council allocated $100,000 for rehabilitation of homes around Tanners Lake in the southwest area of the city in addition to applying for a community development block grant with Washington County for acquisition and improvements to the same area.
Most recently, at the council’s Jan. 10 meeting, another $100,000 rehabilitation program received unanimous approval, this time for commercial property yet to be specified. That loan program, called “Update Oakdale,” will most likely be implemented through a professional partner to be chosen later, officials have said.
“We’re doing this because we want to get ahead of the curve,” Mayor Carmen Sarrack said at the Jan. 10 meeting. “A lot of cities have a boom and then a bust. Oakdale has had a pretty good boom the last 10 years. We want our housing stock to stay up and our commercial stock to stay up.”

Housing rehab
In the case of the Tanners Lake renovation project, the city has partnered with the Center for Energy and Environment to implement an owner-occupied housing program that will offer low-interest loans for residents of that area who qualify. Two different loan programs are being offered, one that would have residents paying back a 3 percent loan between $1,000 and $25,000 over a 15-year term and another, between $1,000 and $15,000, that would be deferred at zero interest for 30 years or until the property is sold.
Washington County has its own similar rehabilitation program that is still open for qualified applicants, even in the Tanners Lake area. Assistant Administrator Dan Hartman stressed to the City Council at its Dec. 13 meeting that Oakdale did not want to duplicate the county’s efforts.
“We want to set up (a program) separate from the county’s program, though the county’s is still available,” Hartman said after the meeting. “Our program is a little more liberal than theirs. (But) if people qualify for the county’s, we want to get them into that ... they’ve got more money than we do.”
Eligible properties for the Tanners Lake 3 percent loan fund are those that are in violation of city property maintenance codes, are single-family or duplex homes, and whose owners have an annual household gross income of less than $89,000 (regardless of family size).
For the deferred loan fund, eligibility will be determined according to family size as well as annual household income. Applicants must make less than 80 percent of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Median Family Income. For example, a family of two would qualify with less than a $49,000 total income while a family of eight or more must make less than $81,000 per year.
For both loans, improvements will be made under the supervision of Building Inspector Bill Schmitt and managers from the Center for Energy and Environment. Recreation or luxury projects, furniture, non-permanent appliances and debt services are not covered through the programs, however.
“The city made a commitment some time ago to start to focus on rehabilitation,” Hartman explained. “You get built up as a community, and you don’t want to deteriorate.”

County grant
In addition to its own rehabilitation program for the Tanners Lake area, Oakdale is hoping to qualify for a community development block grant from Washington County in the amount of $400,000 to be put toward housing in that southwestern part of the city.
However, in this instance, the city hopes to use such funds to acquire existing rental housing property in the interest of rehabilitating and improving the structures for residents of low and moderate incomes.
Hartman presented the city’s application to the council on Dec. 13 so that it might be approved and submitted before a Dec. 16 deadline. Though the council ultimately voted 5-0 in favor of the submission, it was not before Council Member Stan Karwoski voiced his concerns about the proposal as it was presented.
“We all want to redevelop our older housing, but what caught my eye is that it talks about rehabilitating quality affordable rental housing. I have a problem with adding to our rental property stock,” Karwoski told the assembly on Dec. 13. “The program is encouraging and giving more priority to renters. ... I don’t like the way it’s worded.”
Hartman and Sarrack stressed that any money obtained from the county’s grant would only be used to renovate existing rental property not create new buildings. Hartman also explained that he saw the potential grant as “seed money” for the city beginning its own rental rehab program.
Though Karwoski was ultimately satisfied regarding the issues he raised, he continues to be skeptical of any program that specifies the type of tenant the city must accept.
“I didn’t want to be hamstrung with what Washington County would force us to take,” Karwoski said later. “I want to have good working families and good citizens that need some help in Oakdale.”

Commercial rehab
Finally, Oakdale has begun planning for a rehabilitation and low-interest loan program for commercial property suffering from blight or in need of design and safety updates. The city’s Economic Development Commission reviewed a conceptual draft of the “Update Oakdale” plan recently before it was approved on Jan. 10 by the City Council.
Once a more detailed version of the plan has been approved, Hartman said the city would seek out a partner to help with its implementation, as it has with the Tanners Lake program in the Center for Energy and Environment.
“We want to find someone who has the experience in those kinds of programs to partner with,” Hartman said. “I think it’s important that the city not do it alone but with someone who has an expertise in it.”
Though the commercial renovation program is still in very early stages, Karwoski said the council members have discussed how they would like to approach the project. The city is likely to focus on a specific area in town, just as it has done with the housing rehabilitation of the Tanners Lake area. As an example, Karwoski mentioned several of the businesses along Highway 120 that have been in operation for many years.
“I’d prefer that we structure it so that we get the different buildings together to spruce them all up,” he said. “We’re trying to get these landowners to step up and make improvements to their properties together.”
The council member said the city’s rehabilitation efforts is being carefully planned to target structures that either need better maintenance or have larger problems like crime and violence.
“We’re really looking at some bold strategies to redevelop the area in a really neat way,” Karwoski said. “If there’s good commercial properties, people will want to work here and want to buy a home. They’re really linked. You can’t address one without addressing the other.”

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