Alderman Wills cites Detroit as an example of what the City of Amsterdam is up against and how we may acquire federal funding to fight blight. We should all take offense in being compared to the failed and ugly industrial giant, but let me clarify a bit further on the difference between Detroit and the City of Amsterdam.
In Detroit, a block-by-block Mortgage Bankers Association National Delinquency Survey (MBA-NDS) was necessary to plan for and apply for funding. A total of 33,529 vacant homes were identified, which is a third of all Detroit lots. Between 10,000 and 12,000 vacant houses were considered dangerous and ripe for demolition. Detroit received this highly competitive, one-time Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grant (NSP) because of the gross need of its community.
The NSP statute directs that the funds be allocated to “States and units of general local government with the greatest need, as such need is determined in the discretion of the Secretary based on
(A) the number and percentage of home foreclosures in each State or unit of general local government;
(B) the number and percentage of homes financed by a subprime mortgage related loan in each State or unit of general local government; and
(C) the number and percentage of homes in default or delinquency in each State or unit of general local government.”
The statute also provides direction to grantees that they should give priority emphasis in targeting the funds that they receive to “those metropolitan areas, metropolitan cities, urban areas, rural areas, low- and moderate-income areas, and other areas with the greatest need, including those–
(A) with the greatest percentage of home foreclosures;
(B) with the highest percentage of homes financed by a subprime mortgage related loan; and
(C) identified by the State or unit of general local government as likely to face a significant rise in the rate of home foreclosures.”
In NYS, the larger urban areas garner much of the federal funding (i.e., Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Schenectady; much bigger cities with much bigger problems. Albany alone has 900 vacant buildings.) Grant funding is difficult for communities with under 50,000 residents to acquire, as we are not eligible for the same grants and must compete amongst ourselves for the small percentage of the funding pie leftover from the larger cities. The larger cities may also form land banks and have entire departments dedicated to managing and acquiring funding for vacant structures and neighborhood revitalization.
I’m not saying grants are completely out of the picture, it’s just that they are not as readily available as you think. Our demolition efforts so far have been to prioritize our approach, concentrating on the most dilapidated structures that are health and/or safety risks and to take down as many in one given area as possible, so as to save on mobilization fees and time. We’ve taken down twentyone houses and three porches since we started with the County last year. We’ve got thirty more structures identified for a round of demo this fall. We should bond for the coming year’s demolition expenses now.
This summer, I will be reconstituting the Comprehensive Plan Committee to review our goals. This should help us target our efforts for funding requests and make us more attractive to granting entities.
That said, there is still much we must pursue with what we have.
As the council, we should be sure that we are levying meaningful fines against problem properties. This should be considered in our zoning rewrite. We may also consider passing the cost of higher police, fire and code services to vacant building owners by levying heavier fees. We should offer empty lots to adjoining owner-occupants at minimal cost. Investors at our foreclosure sale should be banned from bidding unless they have building permits to renovate earlier acquisitions and can show adequate financing along with a favorable track record in these endeavors. We should try to institute measures that limit property insurance payouts until damaged parcels are code compliant (never forget 60 Bunn Street.) We’ve instituted the local representative registry for out-of-town landlords; how about instituting a vacant building registry?
We MUST expand tax incentives for preservation and rehabilitation of older homes. The Council has spoken of strengthening Code Enforcement. This cannot be done by cutting staff. This must be addressed in this year’s final budget.
I again point out that a properly managed Community & Economic Development Department could be charged with oversight of blight management, as well as dedicated planning, grant writing, property disposition, downtown development, neighborhood initiatives and marketing. This department should coordinate the efforts of AIDA, URA, AHA, the Common Council, community organizations and the County. I understand our financial limitations, but this investment will pay back in the revitalization of our city.
Lastly, take a ride down Division Street from Clinton to Guy. We are beginning to win the battle there thanks to the CDBG grant and work with Rivercrest. We’ve improved about six facades and several key demolitions have changed the face of the neighborhood. It’s a small bite, but that’s how you eat an elephant. One bite at a time.
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