In an area of the city where a majority of residents live in rental properties, a group of Columbus students are designing new houses to help put those residents on the path to home ownership.

It’s the result of a new partnership between C4 — Columbus Area Career Connection, the city of Columbus and the Lincoln-Central Family Neighborhood Center.

Seniors Tim Cox, David Redding and Matt Hamon are in the process of designing new homes that could be built on two blighted local properties — 1510 Pearl St., a vacant lot, and 834 Werner St., which has a condemned home sitting on the property.

Both of those properties are in the Lincoln-Central neighborhood of the city.

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When both of the lots failed to sell at the county tax sale last September, the city approached Darin Johnson, a C4 architecture and building trades teacher, about the possibility of enlisting his students to design and build low-income homes on the properties.

In the past, Johnson’s students have designed and constructed homes that have listed between $170,000 and $450,000, said Robin Hilber, Columbus community development programs director, during an August meeting of the Columbus Board of Works when she introduced the project.

For this partnership, Johnson said he expects his students will develop homes that will sell for $100,000 or less, opening the door of ownership to residents with a modest amount of disposable income.

“The lower the better,” Johnson said.

Lincoln-Central Family Neighborhood Center would be tasked with identifying residents who qualify for low-income housing who are currently renting and have a good reputation for being responsible and reliable tenants. Such residents would be considered good applicants for the transition into home ownership, Hilber said.

About half of the residents living in the Lincoln-Central neighborhood own their homes, said Randy Allman, the neighborhood center’s executive director.

In specific areas such as the Ninth Street Park, home ownership is as low as 20 percent, he said.

The family center has been working in recent years to increase those numbers but often to no avail, Allman said. But with this new partnership specifically targeted at increasing home ownership, the executive director said he is confident his organization will be able to help its residents looking to take a next step in their lives.

“We’d like to encourage that and at the same time reward folks who are willing to come back and make that area their home,” Allman said.

Right now, the partnership between the students, city and neighborhood center as still in its infancy, Johnson said.

In August, Hilber approached the Bartholomew County Commissioners, who held the certificates to the properties after they failed to sell at the tax sale — and purchased both the Pearl and Werner Street lots for a total of $1,154.23. That money came out of the community development department’s unsafe building fund, which was already allocated for projects similar to the new partnership.

That purchase was successful, but the city is not completely in the clear. A 120-day waiting period, which provides time for actions such as requesting title searches, public notices and giving property owners time to redeem their land, has begun.

City attorney Alan Whitted is handling that legal process for the city. If the property owners have not redeemed the lots after the 120-day period expires, a judge can officially issue an order that will give the city the tax deeds to the Pearl and Werner Street lots.

In the meantime, Cox, Redding and Hamon have been working under Johnson’s supervision to develop designs for the new homes.

The students are sticking with basic home concepts — one or two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and living area — with some extra spaces, such as a mudroom, being explored as possibilities.

The lots are smaller than what C4 students usually work with, Johnson said.

The Pearl Street lot is 35 feet wide and allows for about 28 feet of building space. The Werner Street lot has about 25 feet of building space.

Both Cox and Redding are working on the design for the Pearl Street lot, while Hamon is taking on the Werner lot on his own. Cox said he expects that he and Redding will each have to bring their designs to city officials, who will decide which concept will work best for the space.

As the project moves forward, the students said they will also have to research cost estimates for things such as windows, doors, floor treatments and counter tops. Once potential homeowners have been selected, Johnson said they will work with them to customize the designs to fit their needs.

Because the Pearl Street lot is empty, Johnson said it will likely be the first lot his students will build on when it comes time for construction. The existing building on the Werner lot will have to be demolished before new construction on the property can begin.

Looking ahead, Hilber told Board of Works members that she hopes to use the city’s blight-elimination funds to keep the partnership between the city, C4 and the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center going.

Projects funded through the blight-elimination fund must go through a three-year waiting period, so Hilber said her hope is that the partnership can tap into those funds in three years after the homes on the Pearl and Werner lots are completed over the next two years.

If all goes according to plan, Johnson’s building trade students will begin construction on the first house in the fall of 2017.

About the project

The new partnership between the city of Columbus, C4 – Columbus Area Career Connection and the Lincoln-Central Family Neighborhood Center will enable the city to spend $1,154.23 to purchase two blighted properties:

  • 1510 Pearl St.
  • 834 Werner St.

The idea is to design a home on each of those properties that will cost less than $100,000 to allow low-income residents to move from home renting to home ownership.

Right now, the C4 students are still in the design/cost estimate phase of the project. It will likely be 2017 before construction begins on either of the properties.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.