If the city is going to ramp up enforcement of its sidewalk repair ordinance, having a fund to provide grants to low-income residents to help pay for those repairs is necessary.
The city has a long-standing ordinance requiring that property owners maintain sidewalks adjacent to their property, and City Manager Tom Markus has pushed the city to start enforcing it to take care of an estimated $6 million in needed sidewalk repairs. In conjunction with the plan, the city is proposing a policy that would provide financial assistance to low-income residents, as well as cost-sharing grants for properties with more than one adjacent sidewalk. The city will bid sidewalk repair work annually, and any private property owner whose sidewalks have been marked as hazardous may use the city contractor and the established prices to make repairs. A majority of the properties in Lawrence are rentals, so the responsibility for those properties would fall to landlords.
The Lawrence City Commission will review the policy Tuesday.
The proposed policy sets out two instances in which the city could help with sidewalk repairs. One is a cost-sharing program for property owners with sidewalks adjacent to more than one side of their property. The program has no income restrictions, and applicants for the matching grant must prepay their share.
The other is for those who meet the low-income guidelines set annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The policy doesn’t indicate what percent of median income would qualify, but it does state funding would be first come, first served. For those who meet the low-income category decided upon, the idea would be to cover all of the costs of removing and replacing sidewalks.
Both forms of financial assistance are only available for owner-occupied residences.
Opponents of the existing sidewalk policy believe sidewalks are commonly used and should be treated the same as infrastructure such as streets or sewers. The Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods is opposed to the sidewalk policy and is concerned that the assistance programs won’t help enough residents.
The concerns are legitimate. The City Commission should review the proposed policies carefully before putting unexpected financial burdens on residents. And if the city does move forward with forcing homeowners to pay for sidewalk repairs, broad-based assistance programs will be essential.