Alderwoman Rita Rawson is on to something. But, like with so many things, it's up to Davenport City Council to free up the cash.
On Wednesday, developer Duncombe Brooke sprayed weeds outside a badly decayed home on Spring Street. This will be the 10th abandoned property Brooke purchased, typically at tax sale, and rehabbed. The porch's joists sag under a person's weight. The siding is rotten. Inside, old clothing and trash litter the floors. It's not the worst Brooke has seen in is house-flipping career, however.
"Some places make you want to puke," he said.
The house next door has been vacant for years. Its windows are smashed. Squatters have left their mark. It's beyond repair, by Brooke's estimation.
Both of these houses are just a few blocks from the booming Village of East Davenport.
At least 500 homes sit abandoned and rotting throughout Davenport, most of them in its central neighborhoods, according to city estimates. Some third-party agencies predict that number is as high as 800. More than 100 are tagged for demolition.
By its design, 2008's Davenport NOW promoted new builds, forcing growth northward. It did nothing for the central city. That's because the tax rebates are wholly determined by increases to assessed property value. Plunking a shiny new $300,000 home on a once-vacant lot exponentially increases a property's value, triggering the rebate. In central city, property owners might pour $50,000 into a dilapidated home and see the assessed value jump only $20,000. Davenport NOW is structurally incapable rejuvenating old neighborhoods.
And that, going forward, must be the goal, if the city intends on capitalizing on its revitalized downtown. Otherwise, sprawl is the only future Davenport can look forward to.
This week, Rawson called for city investment in homes such as the one Brooke is pouring cash into. She's correct when she argues existing programs will never be capable of driving people back to the old neighborhoods. She's also correct that, as it did downtown, the city and its schools stand to benefit from municipal seed money that promotes old home restoration.
Yet, Rawson's proposal isn't fully formed. Such a project requires annual funding and consistent political support. Future tax increment financing zones for new industry could be structured in such a way to stash new revenue in a rehabilitation fund, she said. The city could bond for $1 million every year or so, she said. Federal agencies are offering cities a little more flexibility with how those grants are spent, she noted.
Both local sources of cash within Rawson's still-under-construction idea are politically problematic. TIFs and residential development just don't mix. Convincing fellow City Council members and administration that loans are a good idea would be a heavy lift, too.
It's obviously too early to endorse Rawson's conceptual plan. It's simply not yet policy. That said, her consistent focus on this issue looks to be sinking in with her peers on the City Council.
Schools are closing. Old homes are bulldozed leaving only vacant lots.
These are real, legitimate struggles that now face Davenport. Rawson might be correct when she says the problems aren't so huge as to be insurmountable. But that won't be the case forever.
Come budget season, Davenport City Council must wrestle with how it can spur redevelopment in the city's core. It should look hard at creating matching grants for would-be developers and nonprofits. It should pay the same attention to the central city that it gave years ago to downtown. And it should garner widespread support if Rawson -- pulling from successes in other communities -- builds a workable plan to fund it.
Davenport's long-term health depends on it.