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Huntington Habitat sees big future for small lots

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

In its first public auction of properties since it created its Land Bank program in 2009, the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority sold 20 of the 56 properties it put on the block.

The big winner at the Aug. 19 auction was Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity which offered the winning bids for seven of the 20 lots that were sold. Habitat Executive Director David Michael said the organization hopes to use the empty lots as sites for homes for disadvantaged families.

Bidding on the lots started at $100 and 11 of those sold went for that amount. The largest prices paid were the winning bids of $2,700 and $2,300 that Habitat offered on two lots.

Michael said the lots it purchased are all small in size but should be adequate to build a new, smaller house design Habitat is getting ready to build.

Huntington's Land Bank program was established because city officials identified the annual Cabell County delinquent tax auction as a major contributor to substandard housing in the community. Properties in the auction often get tangled in years of bureaucratic red tape, only to fall back into the hands of the people who already have abandoned them or a speculator looking for a quick profit.

The Land Bank pre-empts the process by purchasing tax liens on properties within the city limits. If the original owner chooses not to redeem the property, HURA takes ownership of the properties and solicits redevelopment proposals from potential buyers.

Since 2011, HURA has acquired more than 200 properties and sold 83 for redevelopment. Also, 32 vacant, dilapidated structures have been demolished.

“The mission of HURA's Land Bank program is to return tax-delinquent properties to productive use,” said Christal Perry, the program's administrator. “While we have been extremely successful, there are some properties that we have been unable to sell.” Hence the decision was made to offer some of those properties at public auction.

The properties that didn't sell at the auction will go back into the Land Bank inventory. Perry said, while HURA decides what to do with them.

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