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      Anniston working on 'mow to own' program

      Anniston city manager Don Hoyt says, over the last several years, homes across the west end of the city have been abandoned.

      Many are left to deteriorate. Some are torn down and end up being empty lots.

      Now, Hoyt and the city are working to fix that.

      "The idea is to short circuit the process and to get lots and houses into the hands of responsible private owners, as quickly as possible," says Hoyt.The idea is called "mow to own". It is an urban revitalization program, where residents can maintain the rundown properties owned by the city and after a three year period, would be able to acquire rights to the property from the city. "We would have a contract that says, you take care of it during a redemption period for three years. Then at the end of that period of time, we will consider the debt paid," Hoyt explains.{}{}{} {}Hoyt says right now, it costs the city of Anniston $85,000 to maintain the nuisance properties on their own.

      Every year, the number of vacant lots grows.

      In the long run, Hoyt says the plan will save the taxpayers money. "We are actually being repaid for what we have already done and eventually it will go into the hands of a private individual, maybe the next door neighbor or someone else," Hoyt says.

      However, before that can happen, the city has to overcome an obstacle.

      Some of the homes and lots are "contaminated" with lead, rodents and other pollutants.

      Hoyt says the homes will be tested to make sure they can be inhabited.

      Ultimately, Hoyt says this project would curb a declining population and put families back into homes. Hoyt says, "There are a lot of barriers to all of that, but even if all we did was rest the decline, that would be a plus."

      Hoyt says another possibility for the empty lots would be to give them to Habitat for Humanity and other organizations that build homes for charity.

      For now, the city is going to develop a "sample" set of homes, where they will do a test run on a sample of properties that are selected randomly. Those homes will be tested for contaminants and later will determine what percentage of those houses have contaminants in them.

      Also, the City of Anniston is working on developing software that will serve as an electronic database for the homes and lots.

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