Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nuisance Property Bill Eyed by Shaw and Logan Residents

"Ward 2 residents hoping for some action on the vacant or “nuisance” properties in their neighborhoods lined up on May 24 to testify at a DC Council hearing on the “Nuisance Properties Abatement Reform and Real Property Classification Amendment Act of 2007,” a bill introduced by Councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).

For residents of Shaw and Logan Circle, where vacant properties abound, many say the “broken window syndrome” and other crime and quality of life issues created by empty properties are chief among their concerns." [I regret missing this hearing. Sounds like the community was well represented.--Ed.]
DC North | June 2007 | Ward 2 News

1 comment:

Cary Silverman said...

ANC 2C Commissioner Alexander Padro and I testified in person at the hearing along with an ANC Commissioner from Ward 6. Several other area residents submitted written statements for the record.

In my view, there are several reasons why we have vacant property, not all of which have the same solutions.

1) Speculation - The property was purchased for next to nothing and the mortgage is fully paid. It may be worth more tomorrow. The owner is holding out for when property values rise further.

2) "Grand Plan" - Often a situation in which an organizational owner has a dream of developing some substantial project with vacant property, but does not have the funds, expertise or energy to go about it. Example, the notorious senior center to be built someday by Shiloh. I've heard similar plans, left unrealized for decades, by several other institutions. Times may have changed and the leadership of the organizations is often outside of DC and has its own slow process for making decisions. Since they are not in the neighborhood, they don't feel the effects of vacant property. It is out of sight and out of mind.

3) DC government owned properties - there are quite a few of these. Some are in the Home Again program. Others are under ownership of the DC Attorney General. They may have been seized by the government or abandoned. They then get lost and forgotten.

4) DC government red tape. I've heard situations where residents are trying to get permits for years. The paperwork gets lost or disappears. Apparently, you need to hire an expensive "permit expeditor" to keep the application from getting lost in the shuffle. Sounds very fishy to me.

5) Illegal construction. Some times small property owners and developers either don't realize or, in some cases, ignore DC law. There are many approvals and requirements placed on property by zoning, historic preservation, and construction codes. When the rules are not followed, a stop work order comes around and the owner/developer may realize that they can't build that 6 floor glass condo in an R-5-B zoned historic district. The developer, unable to proceed with the plan or stuck under fines and reconstruction costs, may go bankrupt or abandon the project.

There are solutions:

1) Placing the true cost of vacant property on irresponsible owners. This means consistent enforcement of law requiring owners to keep their properties free of trash, free of high weeds and vermin, and secure. This includes clearing the snow from the street in front of the property (easiest way to determine if a property is vacant is to see if the snow piles up). DCRA also needs to condemn vacant houses that are not in "habitable condition," as the law requires. Sending violation notices is essential to reminding owners that they have responsibilities to the community. When I forget to move my car for street cleaning and I always get a ticket! Why are other property owners exempt? Perhaps we should deputize parking ticket writers to enforce certain property laws?

2) Making sure ALL vacant properties are taxed at the vacant property rate, which is 5x that of residential and occupied homes. DCRA is getting better at this, thanks to the new law giving more authority to the agency and more staff attention. I would also suggest enactment of legislation that further increases tax rates for vacant property that remains vacant after 5, 10, and 20 years. Make speculation not worth it. Remind those with grand plans that there is no time like the present.

3) Disposing of DC-owned vacant properties. This needs to move forward immediately. Turn vacant homes into affordable home owning opportunities.

4) Getting rid of red tape and expanding educational outreach to those seeking to renovate or develop their land. Place all information regarding permit applications (i.e. exactly at whose desk the application can be found), stop work orders, inspections, and fines in an online database. We need to put the consumer back in DCRA.

Cary