Tenants to Homeowners, County Commission reach agreement on lease

An agreement that could lead to new residential development in the 1100 block of Rhode Island was reached Monday between Douglas County and Tenants to Homeowners Inc.

TTH wants to build two duplexes and a single-family residence and rehabilitate an existing vacant house on four lots the county owns.

Rebecca Buford, TTH executive director, said the project had support from East Lawrence Neighborhood Association leadership. The neighborhood is considered one of the city’s historic districts, and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance is also supportive.

“I think all the people are at the table talking, and that’s what’s exciting,” Buford said.

County commissioners approved an “option agreement” that allows TTH 12 months to determine the feasibility of renovating the old house at 1120 R.I., building additional residences on three vacant lots and obtaining financing.

If TTH decides the project is doable, it will enter into a no-rent lease with the county for the land that could last for nearly 100 years (until Dec. 31, 2105). The county, however, will have the option after about 30 years to terminate the lease early. That option will then be available every 10 years. If the county wants to end the lease, it will purchase buildings on the property.

TTH would be responsible for insurance and property taxes on the lots.

TTH tries to find affordable home ownership for clients, but it also manages some rentals for people who qualify, Buford said.

The county has debated for at least 15 years what to do with the lots, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said. Buford approached the county with a proposal last year.

“I think it’s a very good attempt to bring about a very good win-win situation,” Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said.

Commissioner Charles Jones agreed, but Commissioner Jere McElhaney said he had reservations about the length of the lease and the possible expense of buying buildings later if the lease is canceled. All three commissioners, however, voted in favor of the agreement and contract.

TTH will be working with the Preservation Alliance to determine whether the house at 1120 R.I. can be renovated, Buford said.

“We’re discussing with them and hoping they can bring additional resources so that we can preserve 1120 in a way that it’s still affordable to Tenants to Homeowners,” she said.

TTH also hopes touse tax credits and provide renters with an equity account, which would set aside some rent money for later use.

The duplexes would have front and back residences with off-street parking from the alley. The back residences will be wheelchair accessible.