The House Next Door

Macon-Bibb and Michigan land banks use different approach for acquiring properties

In Flint, Michigan, a city that mirrors Macon-Bibb County in several ways, major revitalization efforts revolve around an intense effort of demolishing structures and purchasing and reselling properties.

Flint and Macon-Bibb have similar demographics, are about the same proximity to major cities and are places where concerted efforts have been made in recent years to improve blighted neighborhoods.

The two areas are also home to land bank authorities, which are nonprofit organizations that aim to redevelop properties, but have a different amount of resources to purchase properties.

In Genesee County, home to the 102,000 residents of Flint, the county’s land bank authority teamed up with local officials to ratchet up its demolition program after receiving more than $25 million in grants. That led to about 2,000 residential and commercial properties being knocked down since 2013. Typically, 100 to 400 homes were demolished yearly before 2013, said Christina Kelly, director of planning and revitalization for the Genesee County Land Bank Authority.

The land bank currently owns about 8,500 residential houses and vacant lots.

“It’s a huge political risk to take on a large inventory of blighted properties, but we are very effective at securing state and federal money to invest in those properties,” Kelly said.

The Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority keeps a much smaller catalog of properties than Genesee County, which is home to about 420,000 people.

“We hold about 85 properties (at a time), and if we get above that we’re looking at additional insurance and maintenance costs,” Alison Goldey, executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority, said. “The fear is that if you foreclose on these properties ... nobody buys. The tax commissioner knows if the land bank initiated the foreclosure then we would buy it, and we generally knew we would have someone interested in buying.”

DEMOLITION MONEY

There was not any money designated in the fiscal 2016 Macon-Bibb County budget for demolishing houses after a two-year period when 225 of them were torn down.

Any money for demolitions this year would have to come from the $14 million in blight bond funds, of which $10 million is set aside for commissioners to decide how to spend on various projects.

About $4 million of the blight bonds has been designated for further work in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood near Mercer University and to clear the way for athletic fields on Wise Avenue.

There’s an estimated 4,000 empty and dilapidated buildings countywide.

The County Commission shot down a proposal from Mayor Robert Reichert to spend the $10 million on four projects that would not have involved tearing down many structures. There are currently 370 county properties that have been condemned by court.

“We’ve been pushing the house demolition, but attacking blight is beyond that,” said Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore.

FORECLOSURE FRUSTRATION

One of the frustrations cited by several Macon-Bibb County commissioners is the length of time it takes to foreclose on a property in order before it can be demolished.

A property purchased through a standard delinquent tax auction requires a 12-month waiting period. After that, it takes additional time before the new owner can receive the title, clearing the way for work to be performed.

Another process called “in rem foreclosures” only gives the debtor 60 days to reclaim the property.

“It’s easier and cleaner,” Goldey said. “We get what we need. We get a property with a good title,”

The authority has been involved in about 100 in rem foreclosures in the last few years, but Goldey said she isn’t aware of any of them including structures demolished for the Macon-Bibb government.

That could change, however, as Commissioner Gary Bechtel is one of the proponents of using in rem to speed up the process of acquiring homes that could be used on properties where future blight projects can take place. If property owners who are delinquent on their taxes are willing to sell to the land bank, then those owners could get a break on their late taxes, he has said.

Goldey agrees with Bechtel, saying, “it’s definitely a tool to pull out of the tool box and use right now.”

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.

Number of properties that are court approved for demolition in Macon-Bibb County: 370

Number of homes demolished since fiscal 2011

Fiscal 2016: 0

Fiscal 2015: 125

Fiscal 2014: 100

Fiscal 2013: 42

Fiscal 2012: 62

Fiscal 2011: 42

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