Neighborhood revitalization in Decatur - At-risk property registration is key first step
The COVID-19 pandemic will increase the magnitude of the challenges that the city of Decatur is already facing and may accelerate the rate in which we experience these hardships. To date, the city’s neighborhood revitalization initiatives have not kept pace with the rate of blight. Year to date through April, 765 nuisance violations were issued, 110 properties were declared unfit for human habitation, 56 properties were boarded up, and the number of houses on the demolition list increased from 172 to 192. Thirteen properties have been demolished through April.
AT-RISK PROPERTY REGISTRATION MAY REDUCE THE RATE OF BLIGHT IN DECATUR
One possible way to reduce the number of properties that ultimately are added to the demolition list is a registration program for at-risk properties. This program would require the owners of properties that are vacant for over two months AND have a code violation or lack essential utilities to register their property with the city. In addition, foreclosed properties would also have to be registered. By registering at-risk property, the city would quickly be able to alert property owners to new, less expensive problems before they become larger, more expensive problems.
5-10% OF AT-RISK PROPERTIES ACCOUNT FOR 33-50% OF TIME SPENT ON CODE ENFORCEMENT
There are 33,415 housing units in the city of which 4,328 are vacant (13%). Of the vacant properties, approximately 5-10% are at-risk. These at-risk properties typically account for 33%-50% of the total time the city spends on code enforcement including large amounts of time identifying and contacting property owners. This is one reason that many dilapidated properties, such as those recently destroyed by arson, are not demolished sooner.
FEES FOR REGISTRATION ARE OF CONCERN
When the at-risk property ordinance was introduced, there were significant concerns raised by property owners, particularly the amount of the initial and recurring fees to register an at-risk property ($200 initial fee plus $350 semiannually unless code violations are mitigated). While the program and fees are new (and in my view the fees could be lowered), they are also avoidable. As stated previously properties only need to register if they are vacant for at least two months and have received a code violation or lack essential utilities (or are in foreclosure).
THE AVERAGE COST OF DEMOLITION IS $14,500.
The average cost to taxpayers of demolishing a vacant house in Decatur is ~$14,500. If registering at-risk properties reduces the number of properties that ultimately need to be demolished then the benefits to implementing the program outweigh the costs. Neighborhood revitalization is the council’s top priority and this program has the potential to improve our neighborhoods, stabilize home prices, and result in an increased quality of life for our residents.