Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two ideas to fight blight unbudgeted, but possible

Two ideas coming from a March motion by Cincinnati City Councilmembers Harris, Berding, Qualls, Bortz, Ghiz, Monzel, Thomas, and Crowley to increase funding for the demolition of blighted buildings and give neighborhood groups and homeowners the ability to quickly acquire and improve properties are possible, but are unbudgeted and would require the work of several City departments to implement, city manager Milton Dohoney Jr. says in a report to council.

The first idea, outlined in the Fight Blight, Support Homeowners and Improve Property Values Initiative, would create a side lot transfer program, allowing property owners adjacent to City-owned property on which a structure has been abated to purchase the property for $1.

When the City razes a building under its hazard abatement program, it places a lien upon the property for demolition costs.

Rarely does it take title to the property, Dohoney says, but the City could take title by requesting the transfer of property in lieu of the lien, or could pursue the property through foreclosure.

Because of the number of City departments and the amount of staff involved, Dohoney says that the unbudgeted expenses of this program would have to be implemented carefully.

"The Law Department would be required to determine qualifications of the property purchasers and terms of the sale," he says. "If reversion clauses are made a part of the sales agreements, additional staff may be necessary to monitor and
enforce compliance. In addition, if the City obtained title and adjacent property owners were not willing to purchase the property and assume maintenance, then the City would be responsible for maintenance and carrying costs of these parcels."

The second idea, an Adopt-a-Lot Program that would allow community groups to maintain vacant lots in their neighborhoods, could be folded into the new Urban Gardening Program once it gets out of its pilot phase.

"If additional parcels are to be identified that are not currently City-owned, the Law Department would need to initiate acquisition action," he says. "Depending on the volume of parcels involved, additional staff would likely be necessary for administration of this program."