Community Input Sought for Problem of Vacant Buildings
By Seth Piccirillo
Vacant and blighted buildings hurt the local economy and community. These neglected structures drag down surrounding property values and become targets for squatters, drug dealers and arson. If you live or do business near a neglected building, you know this all too well.
At the March 9 Main Street Symposium, we started a conversation about how other cities are combating long-term vacancy and blight. There were over 100 people at that event, so it was a good place to gather public opinion. We talked about the City of Binghamton, New York, Vacant Building Ordinance and Registry. Binghamton is roughly the same size as Niagara Falls and deals with similar hardships. Binghamton enacted its ordinance for both commercial and residential properties. At the end of two full years of implementation, more than 390 properties were registered, with approximately 33 percent in full compliance. The City collected nearly $28,000 in fines and registration fees, and more than 20 violators went to court. It was not a silver bullet, but Binghamton officials saw it as an important part of an anti-blight strategy.
I want to make a few things clear to the public. In starting this conversation, we did not say we were definitely creating a commercial vacant building registry, or hiring a new department. We presented an example from another New York State city because it makes sense to look at best practices from other municipalities. If other places are dealing with the same issues, we should learn from their successes and failures.
Our goal is to target owners that knowingly neglect properties year after year, not the owner that maintains a building while attempting to rent or sell it. The great irony is that many of these blighted commercial buildings carry ridiculous sale prices, 200 or 300 percent over assessed value. Asking a price that is unrealistic, while letting your building crumble, next to a small business owner that is trying to make ends meet…now that’s an anti-business policy. If a new developer cannot afford to buy the building, how will he/she afford to fix the building, get commercial lending, and pay employees? The numbers will never add up, so the building will continue to sit. Ideally, the real estate market would be reasonable and buildings would be maintained, sold and renovated. When that consistently does not happen, action must be taken.
We sincerely want to know what local residents and business owners think about solutions to the vacancy/blight issue. Any successful plan starts with the community’s voice. You live with these issues everyday and your opinions are the most valuable. We appreciate everyone that filled out the comment cards on March 9 and that have reached out to Niagara Falls Community Development on this issue. Let’s continue our dialogue. We posted the Binghamton law, as well as facts about vacancy, at our website,www.nf-cd.org. Take a look and let us know what you think. Support or opposition is welcomed equally. If you have another idea or observation, that is also very helpful. Contact information is listed below. Thank you.
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