For some homeowners in low-income Lawrence neighborhoods, a busted sidewalk could lead to a busted bank account.
City regulations make property owners responsible for the repair and maintenance of public sidewalks that run through their properties. But the city’s Public Works Department now is starting a program aimed at helping homeowners who can’t afford to pay what often amounts to several hundred dollars to repair just a few feet of sidewalk.
“We’ve approached people before, and the debate is they are looking at either paying their electric bill or fixing their sidewalk,” said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works.
City commissioners recently directed $40,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding to the Public Works Department to start a program that would have the city pay for repair costs that normally are the responsibility of property owners. Because of the nature of the grant funding, only sidewalks in neighborhoods designated as low-to-moderate income in nature will be eligible for the city funds.
The $40,000 in funding also won’t provide enough money to fix all the sidewalks in town. Soules estimated it costs about $40 per linear foot to remove and replace damaged sidewalks.
“There are obviously some really bad sidewalks out there,” Soules said. “I think we will focus on the ones that are just in shambles.”
Soules said his department hasn’t yet developed the details of the program and isn’t yet taking applications. He said one consideration is whether the city will require homeowners to match at least a portion of the city’s investment. That would allow city funding to stretch further, but may exclude some households with particularly low incomes.
Properties eligible for the program will be determined by census data for their neighborhoods. The city’s website includes a list of low-to-moderate income neighborhoods that qualify for Community Development Block Grant programs. A majority of neighborhoods east of Iowa Street would qualify for the program.
Carol Bowen, a longtime advocate for better planning for pedestrians, said she was pleased the city was giving the new approach a chance.
“I see dangerous sidewalks all the time while I’m out walking,” Bowen said. “There are a lot damaged by tree roots and a lot that just have potholes.”
The Public Works Department for the past several years has received Community Development Block Grant money for sidewalk work. But previously the CDBG money was used to fill gaps in the sidewalk system. Soules said this will be the first year the department has run an extensive program to repair existing sidewalks scattered throughout the city.
Soules said he hopes to have details for the program finalized later this summer and for work to begin in the fall.