turning blighted dilapidated houses into new homes

In place of a dilapidated property, Randolph, Nebraska, now has a new energy efficient spec home. Photo provided by Gary A. Van Meter, Revitalize Randolph.

Photo: Randolph, Nebraska, converted a dilapidated property into a new energy-efficient spec home financed by local investors. Photo provided by Gary A. Van Meter, Revitalize Randolph.

By Becky McCray

Small towns need good housing to retain population and to attract new residents, new industries and new entrepreneurs.

There’s growing interest in living in small towns and rural communities, making good rural housing even more important. You might have heard about Zoom Towns, as more people choose remote work and live in small towns. If you don’t have a good place for people to live, they aren’t coming.

If you want to retain your young people, you’ll need housing options for them. Walkability and livability are huge factors in where people choose to live when they have a choice.

Communities without good housing can’t stay communities for long.

Rental houses can become a source of blight and dilapidated housing if they aren’t well managed.

Keeping your town’s rental housing in decent condition can require a little economic self defense as a community. Right now, corporate real estate investors are buying up rental housing even in tiny towns. They have a terrible track record when it comes to maintenance and tenant relations.

One solution is to create a local investment team to buy up rent houses before corporations snap them up, or buy them back. You could do this on a community ownership or cooperative model.

Making a spec home out of a blighted property

Revitalize Randolph, Nebraska, (population 944) used local investment to transform a dilapidated property with an $8000 assessed value to a new home even before a buyer was found.

In 2015, Gary A. Van Meter, Community Development Director in Randolph, told me about the project. It was the first spec home in Randolph in recent memory and was funded by individual local investors.

It certainly drew a lot of interest, with 150 visitors to the open house, including a city administrator from a nearby community.

They did their homework to make it an attractive house to buyers, including super energy efficiency, custom touches like cabinets, and additional storage and workshop space in the garage. They also put in a concrete-cast FEMA approved safe room.

That workshop and garage space makes the home a good match for makers and crafters looking for a live-work space. Those potential entrepreneurs might be your existing residents or new artists to attract to the community.

Improving Rural Housing: An Idea Friendly Approach

There is no one solution (not even local investing!) that can solve every housing challenge in rural communities. Since your situation is different from other towns, the Idea Friendly Method helps you test any idea to make sure it will work for your community before you commit to expensive plans that will be hard to change.

Deb Brown and I put together a 24 minute video at SaveYour.Town that shows you how to apply the Idea Friendly Method to improving housing and shares the most promising ideas that almost any community could adapt.

Learn more: Improving Rural Housing: An Idea Friendly Approach

About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.

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