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The City of Sumter received a Municipal Achievement Award for its residential assistance program. Officials were presented with the award during the Municipal Association of South Carolina's 72nd Annual Meeting on June 30. The city won in the economic development category. Thirty-three cities and towns submitted their projects and initiatives.
For years, some Sumter residents lived among dilapidated buildings that had decayed at the hands of absentee landlords, heirs or financially strapped property owners. To alleviate the problem, city officials created a residential assistance program with the sole mission of fighting blight and cleaning up downtrodden properties.
After officials identified more than 200 vacant, boarded-up structures throughout the city, they decided to take action. Rather than let derelict dwellings define communities, invite crime and detract from safety, city officials removed them, as quickly as they could.
Local residents helped city officials identify dilapidated structures and contact homeowners. Staff met personally with residents to help contact owners, a component of the program city officials feel is vital to its success. Codes enforcement officers, property owners, neighborhood association representatives and local contractors worked together to clear the sites. A Community Development Block Grant helped fund the Residential Development Assistance Program.
The program has literally lifted up some residential areas and assisted struggling homeowners. The removal of just one boarded-up or burned down structure has given entire neighborhoods a renewed sense of pride.
Since the program began a decade ago, Sumter has demolished an average of 32 dwellings each year. With blight cleared, the neighborhoods have become healthier and safer for all residents. City leaders believe so strongly in the program's ability to bolster quality of life, they have vowed to find alternative funding should the current funding dissolve.
"The residential assistance program is an example of how a hometown recognized a problem for residents and took action to get rid of the eyesores and improve quality of life," said Miriam Hair, executive director for the Municipal Association.
These winning entries represent innovative projects undertaken by Municipal Association member cities and towns. More information and a video about the project are available on the Association's website (www.masc.sc
The Municipal Association of South Carolina initiated the Achievement Awards in 1987 to recognize and encourage innovations and excellence in local government.
The Municipal Association of South Carolina is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit Association of incorporated cities and towns dedicated to raising the standards of municipal government through a broad range of services.