Cass County battles blight in housing market

Published: Apr. 14, 2023 at 7:59 PM EDT
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CASS COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - Eyesore no more, as Cass County is helping residents demolish and repurpose unwanted and unsafe structures.

Blighted property negatively affects surrounding properties, lowering values and increasing difficulty to sell and crime rates.

These are just a few reasons Cass County is partnering with local municipalities to stabilize, demolish, or remediate buildings and vacant land.

Cass County’s new Blight Elimination Program is in its first phase, and ten property owners are already taking advantage of this initiative, with three additional phases already planned through 2024.

“The scale of vacant and abandoned properties across Cass County is significant, and it’s truly any township, city, or village can bear,” says Cass County Treasurer and Land Bank Authority Chair Hope Anderson. “Landbanks were actually formed in the State of Michigan to help our local units address these blighted properties in the County.”

In March of this year, the state land bank authority awarded the Cass County land bank authority about $160,000, promising at least $200,000 for the program.

“So we are not only taking advantage of the guaranteed funds, but we’re also applying competitively for additional projects in the future,” Anderson said.

“I think the whole county is very excited about this program,” Anderson said. “We’re excited to have this opportunity to address the blight problems in the county.”

One property owner taking advantage of the program is Ronald Terry, a Jones Village Resident who acquired the adjacent property from his former neighbors.

“I’d like to get the house torn down, and they came up with a new thing in Cass County, and the Cass County Treasurer, Hope Anderson, is helping us with it, and we’re really pleased,” says Ronald Terry, a resident of Jones, Mich.

Built in the 1890s, the house was a family home for nearly a century but has stood vacant for over 30 years.

“It’s beyond repair; water damage, no roof was on it, and it’s just rotting away,” Terry said.

If not for this program, the local municipalities would be responsible for the cost, which would inevitably fall on the property owner.

“It would probably take me some time and a lot of money, Terry said. “That’s all I can say because it’s a lot of work to be done there. Plus, they’re going to tear the basement up, put new sand in, topsoil, and grass seed, and I think it’s going to be better for the neighborhood, too. I mean, everybody’s starting to clean everything up around here.”

Suppose residents want to participate in this program after an approved assessment. In that case, the county will put a lien on their property to cover the cost of the demolition, but after seven years, the lien would expire.

One of the other properties set to be demolished is the Vandalia Gospel Lighthouse Church.

Anderson tells 16 News Now the church’s owner, Pastor Don Damron, wants to turn the property into senior housing.

She continued by saying that some owners plan to sell their properties after the demolitions, while others want to rebuild new homes. Owners like Terry are unsure what they will do with the property afterward but are purely excited to be rid of the decaying structures.

By law, Phase 1 must be completed by the end of the year.

Anderson says unless asbestos is found during an assessment, she hopes to complete demolition by the end of the summer.

Contact the Cass County Treasurer for more information about the Blight Elimination Program.

Their office is located at 120 N Broadway, Cassopolis, MI 49031.

You can contact Hope Anderson at (269) 445-4468.

Read the full press release here: