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Letter To The Editor By Brad Linzy: How To “Fight the Blight” And Spend Nothing Doing It

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FREE_HOUSELetter To The Editor by Brad Linzy

Over the past couple days I have been watching all the attention that’s being paid to the issues of blight in Evansville. As we’ve heard many times, Evansville has as many as 10,000 homes in a blighted or dilapidated state many might consider beyond the point of refurbishment. This has led to a debate about what the City of Evansville should do about those properties under its ownership that fall within this category.

The overwhelming consensus seems to center around spending taxpayer dollars to tear down these structures on a case by case basis. While some have vocally disagreed with this approach, few if any solutions have been forthcoming.

There may be a way to satisfy both sides of this debate. I believe we can save the taxpayer from the burden of paying to tear down blighted homes while at the same time fighting the blight.

I propose the creation of a special program under which qualified people could receive a FREE HOME under a contractual proviso that obligates them to either fix all code violations within a set timeframe or tear down any structure on the property and resowing it with grass until it can be redeveloped. If the recipient chooses to fix the home, the city wins. If they choose to tear down the home and rebuild or sell the lot, the city wins. Either way, the city wins, taxpayers win, and the recipients of a FREE HOME win.

This is actually not a revolutionary idea. Many states, including Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, and Connecticut, as well as selected municipalities nationwide already use public private partner arrangements to put curators into historic homes at $0 rent. [1]

These arrangements ensure empty homes become inhabited by quality caretakers who will reverse the blighted conditions of the property.

Other programs across the country sell homes for a ridiculously low price, such as $1, to the applicants with the best plans for renovation. Under this scheme, a board is elected or appointed to oversee the application process and decide who gets which properties. [2]

The point is, there are creative ways to solve the problems with which we are faced as a community that do not involve spending more money we do not have. I urge all local “fight the blight” activists and politicians to begin thinking laterally and championing solutions that kill multiple birds with the same intelligently cast stone, which move us in a direction of fiscal responsibility, in short, which actually make the most sense. For Evansville, that will mean solutions which consume as few of our tax dollars as humanly possible while solving a pressing problem such as blight.

Can anyone say “FREE HOMES”?

Sources:
1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2149683/States-away-historic-homes-FREE–crumbling-buildings-cost-thousands-repair.html
2. http://realestate.aol.com/blog/2013/07/03/cities-abandoned-home-giveaways/

POSTED BY CITY COUNTY OBSERVER WITHOUT OPINION, BIAS OR EDITING.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Tom Barnett had an idea about 5 years ago to help pay for demolition that was needed. He realized that may of the houses in Evansville that are financially not feasible to repair contain some elements of premium scrap value. These items included hardwood moldings, vintage light fixtures, stained glass windows, etc.

    He advocated parting out such things to raise money to pay for demolitions. I always thought that was a good idea.

    • That is a good idea. I wonder what the breakeven would be to cover the cost of recovery & resale/recycle? I’m sure that it would not be enough to cover the entire demolition, but if it would yield any profit it would be some savings on the demolition.

    • Not a bad idea, but why not give the homes away and give the new owner salvage rights? If they choose to demolish, it could help offset costs and pad profits.

      • That could work well too. It may be the cheapest way to get the demolition done. They sort of did that with Roberts and the Executive Inn by giving the demolition company scrap privileges.

        • Yep. The idea is to create an economy around the demolitions. The scrap, coupled with the lot values, could be lucrative to development companies, and in cases where houses are salvageable…it’s hard to argue with the upside potential of a free house. They could be lived in or refurbished and flipped or rented out. In every case, everybody wins.

          • Actually, I’ll modify this slightly… Not everyone will win. The only “losers” would be those with current holdings in rental property and real estate, who would see a “FREE HOUSE” scheme as competition. These people will be lobbying for demolition only schemes, even if that punishes the taxpayer and forces an inferior solution.

            Usually, inferior solutions have a business lobby somewhere pushing them. We often mistake cronyism for incompetence or lack of imagination.

        • What ever is planned there keeping the municipal funding sourcing out of the recovery operation would be advised in your area. Well advised, considering the ongoing, and latest developments with federally required regulatory issues there.
          Some of the before mention items are pretty much regulated out of recycling processes due the environmental impact of recovery and resale grandfathering issues.

          You cannot re-purpose hazardous waste,or electrical fixtures or water resource fixtures that don’t bone up to present codes and safety directives. Recovery operations based in those type of work sites are standardized as well.

          Look at the big picture,the core issue is municipal funding sustainability.
          Let “FAIR,and OPEN”, privately funded bidding take care of the rough stuff,the end result will be more acceptable and more worthy of being moved forward.
          I have planned these types of licensed section projects,done with the right control drivers they can be very effective.
          “Staged incremental district impacting” controls the “process evolution” throughout the overall structured plan implementation.
          Keeping it a learning process leaves the plan envelop open for adjustment forward.

          This process is very easily adapted into standing community organizations,such as church or other chartered non profits With the proper coaching can also be very cost effective.

          The re-purposed property then becomes the equity of the said organization reinventing the project design application and resourcing thereof.
          (Shared community value) funds revitalization through social-ethical community driven re-purposing.
          Creates future employee skills, promotes real job development applications throughout planned process training. One certain area I worked with deemed this “property rights protected plan” as an re-habitation sensation.

          Might work there.

          • This is Indiana, obviously you can’t recycle or salvage lead paint, but vintage light fixtures, copper from wiring and plumbing, crown molding, doors, vintage brass fixtures like door knobs, aluminum gutters, even lumber can all be recycled and salvaged.

          • Yes: Although. I wonder sometimes, Indiana is in the United States of America. so the same regulatory issues apply through federal requirements and standardization. Like your local leadership you might study those a little more. The individual construction items listed all come with attachments so to speak.
            What kind of solder is used on the copper pipes,what in the material used in the wiring insulation,or the heating system or insulation.
            What is the trace signature of the soil around the home,what coatings or sealers were used on the wood products? What is the grade of the aluminum in the rain gutter or siding,what traces are left on regrind?
            What was the prior installed heating system? Was it coal fired? What is the cost to remove those per required present MSDs acceptability.
            Your area needs some real aspect training on this stuff. Even as I observed the last city council meeting on WNIN public broadcasting,I cringed as they voted and approved some zoning for recycled asphalt regrinding location on your lower west side.
            That is good re-purposing ,however its pretty commonly known the asphalts of the era before environmental regulatory standardization all were heavily laden with PCBs and other now use banned chemicals and materials. Cringe point…the council noted that the “otherwise useless” ground was in fact in an flood plain….duh..Really, and that was somewhat approved without further study. Ok, How would you think the EPA would look at this plan given its already been orated during the council meeting and even noted to be in the Ohio River Valley flood plain drainage basin?…..

            “Interllectual’s solve problems,Geniuses prevent them” (Einstein)

            “Common sense doesn’t come in a box’… (My Grandfather)

    • Joe- great idea! When I built my house, I had collected thousands of pieces from old houses and couldn’t be happier I did. The old homes (even the small ones) had so much character. We even have bough doors, doorknobs, lightswitch holders, railings, cabinets, etc.

  2. Something to consider….

    Not all lots are created equally, if you look at what was done by the DMD/Brownstones you’ll see a lot of the homes resided on lots that are too narrow for current building codes and 2 or 3 lots had to be combined to make a build-able lot that fit the allowed dimensions.

    I’d venture to bet that the bulk of the homes that need demolition reside on lots that can not be rebuilt on and only become valuable to adjacent property owners unless several lots are in a row on the same block.

    Most of these homes are in older neighborhoods where the lot size was 30 or 40′ in width and I believe the current codes call for a 50-60′ lot width to build on, then add the needed “green space” area in front of the home which I believe is in the 20′ range most of these lots do not have the necessary depth to accommodate new construction and not be in violation of existing codes.

    All of this can be overcome by a trip to the area planning commission and a request for a variance which may or may not be approved, it would totally depend on your plan, how your neighbors feel about the plan, how the commission views your plan, and probably what phase the moon is in at the time you request the variance.

    Most of these old lots could never be built on without the consent of the neighbors because just as they would like to see the blight removed, they also will enjoy not having the eyesore next to them and be hesitant to a variance being granted.

    Of course this is JMHO

  3. Codes can be modified. All that takes is a vote. Where there is a political will, there is a way. The alternative is the blight we have currently. Anyone who complains about getting a blighted house refurbished next door, or seeing it reduced to an empty lot are not being rational. In either case, there is improvement for the neighborhood. Besides, if someone has an issue, they can apply to win the free lot, just like everyone else. We could even write preference to adjacent owners into the program.

    • Oh I agree with you Brad, just pointing out some of the potential pitfalls, the other 600lb gorilla in the room is ownership of the said properties, I think you’ll find that the city owns very few of the properties and that financial institutions (mortgage companies) own a huge amount of these homes. They do in a lot of cases pay the property taxes, code violation fines and pay for limited upkeep in hopes the housing market will turn around.

      As long as the building isn’t condemned, the property taxes are paid and fines are paid the city has little leverage to try to acquire the property and fix the problem, once it is on the condemnation list it becomes a whole nuther’ story.

      I just spent the last 5 years dealing with this very situation in our neighborhood, and the hoops that you have to jump through are really quite high. I do have to say that everyone in code enforcement worked their butts off to get the house condemned and on the list to get raised.

      Anyway it is JMHO

      • I see what you mean. Obviously, my proposed solution would only work for city-owned properties. The condemnation process is a whole other thing.

        • The thing about the condemnation process is it doesn’t transfer ownership, once a structure becomes unsafe and gets on the list, after it is raised the property is then assessed the cost of demolition, the ownership stays where it was, and the fines and fees are just added to the annual property tax assessment.

          To be quite honest the city doesn’t want the property or the liability, they will tear it down if it is unsafe or a health hazard, the only way the city/county can take ownership is if the property taxes go delinquent, but even then it’s sold at a tax sale, the city really never takes possession of the property.

          If you think about it why would the city want to take a property for whatever reason, all of these houses have some sort of inherent liability that while the city could in theory get around, why would it? The city has enough property it can’t take care of already.

          JMHO

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