Abandoned and dilapidated buildings are a problem in every West Virginia community. They’re not only eyesores — these problem properties reduce neighboring property values, increase crime and drug activity, and further hobble economic development.
In August 2015, I joined The Hub as an AmeriCorps VISTA to work on programs that reduce the number of abandoned and dilapidated buildings across the state. This is a subject near and dear to my heart.
I grew up in a small town neighboring the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. For about a century, Lowell was a booming industrial center until the textile mills began closing and relocating to the South.
By my childhood in the 1990s, Lowell was a shell of its former glory with crumbling factories, high unemployment, and a crack epidemic. My mother, who was born and raised in Lowell, would only take my siblings and me to the city if we were visiting our grandparents, or to see a doctor.
In the late 2000s, I returned to Lowell for a college internship. To my surprise, over the course of two decades, Lowell had become a vibrant center of culture, commerce, and community. The abandoned mills that fascinated me as a child had been transformed into polished storefronts and loft apartments. And I became captivated by adaptive reuse—the concept of rehabbing older, vacant buildings for new purposes—as a tool for community revitalization.
My passion for adaptive reuse and community revitalization brought me to West Virginia—first as an AmeriCorps Member with Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and now as a VISTA with The Hub. My year of service with The Hub will build the capacity of the Abandoned Properties Coalition—which works to convene and coordinate organizations and community leaders across the state working on abandoned and dilapidated property issues—and assisting with downtown redevelopment efforts through Downtown Appalachia
Through my work with the Abandoned Properties Coalition, I’ve assisted with the Property Rescue Initiative (PRI), a program of the West Virginia Housing Development Fund (WVHDF) that provides loan funding for communities to remove or acquire dilapidated residential buildings — a game-changer for many local governments that don’t currently have the resources to address problem properties.
Over the next few months, The Hub, and our partners at WVHDF, the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, and the WVU Land Use and Sustainable Law Clinic will be holding five regional workshops for communities interested in accessing PRI funding and receiving direct technical assistance.