The city has approved paying $30,500 to demolish three Columbus houses, the first to be torn down through a blight-elimination program supported by state grants.

The demolitions are part of the Indiana Blight Elimination Program, which awarded the city $760,000 in August 2014 to purchase homes deemed necessary to demolish.

The program is unique in that the city uses grant funds to pay the homeowner a nominal amount for the value of the home while allowing the city to retain ownership of the land, said Robin Hilber, programs coordinator for the city’s community development department.

That means taxpayer money isn’t necessary, she said.

Owners of all three properties approached the city to become part of the blight-elimination program, Hilber said.

The program will allow the city to turn over the land to housing agencies that provide affordable housing in the city or to neighboring property owners for development.

According to Hilber:

A demolished property at 2020 Sixth St. is going to Thrive Alliance, which has programs to help families afford rental housing in Columbus.

A property at 1462 California St. is being gifted to a collaborative effort formed through the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, to provide locations for Columbus’ C4 construction program high school students to build homes.

A property at 1468 Union St. property is going to a next-door property owner.

Hilber said that while these three homes are the first to go through the program, the city is working with about half the money that was originally granted for blight elimination. After receiving the grant in 2014, requirements called for the city to spend all of it by February of this year, Hilber said.

When Mayor Jim Lienhoop took office in January, none of the funding had been expended by the administration of former Mayor Kristen Brown. The state required that half of the grant money be returned because it would not been spent by the time limit.

Hilber said the state did give Columbus an extension to use the remaining $350,000 to $380,000 for the program.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.