With initiatives introduced and approved over the last two weeks it appears city officials are preparing to bolster Mobile’s housing stock as a way to possibly grow the municipality.
Members of the Mobile City Council and Mayor Sandy Stimpson all agree affordable housing is key to growing the city; however, after that, the two sides differ.
At the Mobile City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8, members unanimously approved an amendment to the ordinance overseeing the capital improvement program (CIP) budget. The amendment would allow councilors to use money from the $3 million allocated each year to improve private homes. The funds for the CIP come from a 25 percent city sales tax increase — commonly known as “the penny” — which has been extended past its sunset on numerous occasions.
The amendment pushed by Council President Levon Manzie would add to neighborhoods in his district that have already been buoyed by street resurfacings and added park amenities.
“The next natural evolution of that process is to invest in our neighborhoods,” Manzie said in a committee meeting on the subject Sept. 1. “We have to grow the population of the city and infill in our neighborhoods remains a problem. We’ll always have that problem unless people in these neighborhoods become millionaires overnight, or we invest in specific communities.”
The change in language to allow Manzie and others to use the funds for community revitalization is necessary, council attorney Chris Arledge said, because as it’s written the CIP ordinance only allows for the funds to be used for capital improvements.
Through the amendment, Manzie said he would be able to help residents in his communities with grants to renovate single-family homes that might be on the way to becoming blight the city would then have to tear down.
“I want the ability to do neighborhood revitalization,” he said. “Fix them up before they end up on our council agenda to be torn down.”
In his State of the City address Thursday, Sept. 3, Stimpson mentioned growth and the two-pronged approach he wants to use to bring new residents into the city. The first is to build affordable workforce housing, he said.
“Our plan is to build or renovate 1,000 homes by 2026,” he said. “Most of these homes will be located in the oldest part of our city, which is east of I-65. This plan will be complemented by new projects and exciting announcements coming in the next few months.”
The second part of Sitmpson’s growth plan would be annexation of areas of West Mobile. Three members of the Mobile City Council voted down a 2019 annexation plan proposed by Stimpson. Although the plan was approved by four members of the seven-member board, the ordinance setting up the city’s current form of government requires most items to be approved by a supermajority of five votes. So, allowing voters in West Mobile to decide on annexation was voted down.
“With a fifth vote, Mobile would have regained the title of Alabama’s second-largest city and would have become eligible for more resources and federal grants,” he said. “Annexation combined with workforce housing is the way to grow our city. Now is the time.”
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