Knock Knock, Anybody Home?

Solving Dayton’s empty property dilemma

By Gary Leitzell

Most of us who live in Dayton have a vacant house or two close to us. I see the houses behind my home that have been derelict for 10 years. There’s the house at the end of my block that was the victim of an arson fire last year. The house around the corner from it has been tied up in an estate and empty for 15 years. These properties are all part of the reason I got involved with my neighborhood association and Priority Board.

What caused the foreclosures and the abandoned houses? There were many factors. Some people lost their jobs and borrowed against their homes only to be unable to repay the loan. Some people were sold down the river by predatory lenders and borrowed against their home to relieve themselves of credit card debt but never relieved themselves of the credit cards. Some people scammed the system by buying a house with “No Money Down” and no intention to make a payment so they could live rent-free for six months and then sell the stove, furnace and air conditioner for a quick extra few dollars. In other cases, mom and dad died and the kids had no interest in their home and sold it to a slum lord or just let the house go because there was not enough money in the estate to care for it. When the Federal government pushed home ownership for no money down, everyone who qualified for a home grabbed one up. This left everyone else to be a renter and many of those people destroyed property, leaving landlords with hefty repair bills. Many landlords walked away from these properties and filed bankruptcy. The reasons are endless. The real question is what are we going to do about it now?

We see the vacant properties all around us and it makes us angry, but what is the extent of the problem beyond what we see every day? The local newspaper recently published an article indicating that 6225 vacant properties exist in the City of Dayton. There are 65 neighborhoods in the City which encompasses 55 square miles. That means that there are on average, 113 vacant buildings per square mile or 96 vacant houses per neighborhood. There are 6225 vacant houses in a city where we send out some 57,000 water bills every quarter. About 10 percent of our buildings are abandoned. These buildings are all legally owned by someone or something other than the City. The role of City government is to enforce the code and we do so by issuing tickets. If the owner of a property lives outside the state and doesn’t pay the fine then they can go to court. If they don’t show up for court then they can be arrested but if they live somewhere outside our local jurisdiction there is little that can be done and the house remains a blight that society ends up taking care of.

So what is the City doing? We can demolish some buildings but with asbestos abatement it costs on average $16,000 per property. We would need $99 million to remove all of them. This year we should have enough funds to remove 100. We have initiated the Welcome Dayton Plan, which will attract foreign-born nationals to our city who want the American Dream and will be willing to pay $20,000 or less for a home and then fix it up. The county has developed a Land Bank but it can not support all the properties. However, there is the Real Estate Acquisition Program, also known as REAP. If a property is two or more years delinquent in taxes and is vacant, it can be acquired through an application processed by the City. The application needs to be submitted with a $500 deposit and this sets in motion a sheriff sale process that notifies owners and banks to take responsibility for the property or else it will be transferred to the applicant with a clear title and no delinquent taxes. Through this process the applicant may acquire a property for less than $2000. At any time the property taxes get paid by the deed holder then the applicant will receive a refund of their application fees. This process applies to vacant land as well for people wishing to expand their yard by acquiring the vacant lot next door. To search property records go to www.mcrealestate.org and www.mctreas.org.

I think the time has come for people to realize that things will only change if we all take responsibility for the things that we can change as individuals. If you are able to cut the grass on an abandoned lot, please do so. If you have the means and have ever wanted to acquire property affordably, now is the time. We have the procedure in place to get some of these properties in the hands of responsible owners. With so many people displaced from their homes through foreclosure the quality of renter has certainly improved and it is likely we will experience a generation of people who have no desire to own real estate. In the end, it is all about what you can do for your community—don’t be afraid to take it back.

Reach Dayton Mayor Gary D. Leitzell at (937) 333-3653 or GaryLeitzell@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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