Here's where I left off yesterday:
There are buildings abandoned by their owners on approximately 1,200 properties held by the Land Reutilization Authority. These buildings vary greatly in quality and condition. Many were in awful shape when their owners walked away from them; some subsequently deteriorated. The LRA attempts to save every building in the City's several historic districts, but that is not always possible. Some are just too far gone, and are dangerous eyesores.
The LRA once had far more empty buildings and vacant lots than it now does. Voter approval of a City Use Tax 8 years ago generated enough money to demolish many of the most hazardous LRA-owned (and privately owned) structures. And, renewed interest in City neighborhoods also reduced the LRA inventory significantly as developers and non-profit housing corporations built new homes and businesses on what were formerly LRA's vacant lots.
City aldermen are central to the LRA's strategy for reducing its inventory of abandoned properties. All offers for LRA properties are reviewed with the aldermen in whose wards the properties are located and whose neighborhoods' development will be affected by the sales. The aldermen's views are taken into account by LRA staff as they make recommendations to the LRA Board, which has the final decision on the sale of LRA properties.
To avoid situations where someone purchases a property and does not fulfill the commitment they make to develop it, LRA now options properties rather than sells them outright. The agency finalizes the sales when the buyer produces plans, a budget, and evidence of financing that demonstrates that the proposed use will be built. LRA also includes a "right of re-entry'? clause in its deeds that allows LRA to recover the property if the buyer does not fulfill the commitment after the sale is closed.
The reason for these policies is clear: Turning properties over to private owners who do not maintain the properties is not in the best interests of anyone, in particular of City taxpayers. Unmaintained, deteriorated, privately owned properties pay minimal (or no) taxes and, as I noted above, cost the City money.
Some properties owned by LRA have been placed into "C'? status, i.e., set aside with the goal of being available for consolidated development in the future. City blocks were historically platted in very small lot sizes, typically 25' ' 35', and these very small lots are very difficult to redevelop. In situations where LRA has title to a large number of lots on a particular block, LRA consults with the aldermen about whether the block has potential for larger scale redevelopment, and whether an individual lot has a greater potential than as a side yard for a privately owned property. In situations where LRA believes a property has development potential but that development is not imminent, LRA regularly enters into "garden leases'? with adjoining property owners. These "garden leases'? allow the adjacent owners to control the property for the duration of the lease, which is renewed on an annual basis if no development is imminent.
Sorting out these priorities is not an easy task. LRA staff works diligently with each alderman to determine what future use is appropriate and in the neighborhood's best long-term interest. The strategy is to ensure that each of our neighborhoods fulfills its potential, rather than shortchanging a neighborhood's future for an immediate sale of the property. If coordinated development is the best future for a group of properties, the neighborhood, and the taxpayers - if new homes, new businesses, or new public facilities can be built on the consolidated properties - then their future taxing potential is far greater than if the properties were treated as individual vacant lots.
Tomorrow, I will talk about some successes.