New Castle County takes new action to tackle neighborhood blight
Dunleith – Yesterday, in the neighborhood of historic Dunleith along the Route 9 corridor, County Executive Matthew Meyer was joined by nearly 100 state and local legislators, housing advocates, public safety officials, community leaders and others as he announced new steps to combat neighborhood blight. At a new home under construction at the site of a formerly vacant and blighted house, Meyer signed legislation into law that gives County government new tools to tackle vacant and abandoned housing and unveiled a vacant property strategy, including state legislation aimed at strengthening community development, reducing crime and supporting home ownership.
Vacant and abandoned homes become breeding grounds for crime and dumping grounds for trash, are targets for arson and become a health and safety hazard for their surrounding communities. These properties also drive costs to county taxpayers, diverting public safety resources and force local government to pay for basic maintenance, grass mowing, and waste removal. Additionally, vacant and abandoned housing has been shown to depress neighborhood property values and reduce tax revenues that fund critical public services. More than 1,300 vacant properties have been identified in unincorporated areas across New Castle County that are currently being monitored or maintained by the County’s Code Enforcement office.
“By turning vacant places to livable spaces we will strengthen neighborhoods and raise property values, and that will turn a financial liability for the County into financial opportunities for hardworking homeowners while reducing crime that vacant properties attract,” County Executive Matthew Meyer said. “I am proud to sign legislation that gives New Castle County new tools to combat blight and to kick off our new collaborative effort to lift up communities and improve public safety.”
During yesterday’s event, Meyer signed legislation sponsored by Council member David L. Tackett that establishes new authority to more fully offset the County’s costs for monitoring and maintaining vacant properties and to ensure full compliance with its existing vacant housing registry. It:
- establishes a process that allows the County to register vacant properties if the owner or responsible party fails to register;
- imposes an additional $1,000 fee for properties not voluntarily registered by their responsible party or owner;
- requires annual registration every year a property remains vacant; and
- increases annual registration fees the longer a property remains vacant
“This legislation will allow New Castle County to move out of the backseat into the driver’s seat for vacant and abandoned housing,” Councilman Tackett said.
Meyer also introduced a new vacant property strategy – a roadmap for action – spearheaded by the Departments of Land Use and Community Services along with County Council. It reflects New Castle County’s vision to create a program that allows vacant properties to be occupied by new homeowners or redeveloped without significant investment by the County by focusing on:
- facilitating the rapid rehabilitation and resale of vacant properties;
- streamlining the Sheriff’s sale process and accelerate sales for vacant properties;
- identifying opportunities to seek change through state law; and
- deepening collaboration with members of the public, local governments and other agencies to efficiently use resources and grants and help individual communities with vacant properties
New Castle County has already drafted two pieces of legislation which will be introduced in the coming days by State Representative James Johnson and Senator Bryan Townsend that advance this agenda:
- The first measure allows the “prequalification” of bidders at a sheriff’s sale to restrict bidders who are delinquent in paying local property tax or are in violation of local property maintenance codes. It recognizes that if a potential bidder at a tax lien sale has failed to pay taxes or has failed to maintain the condition of property, it is not likely that the bidder intends to improve the condition of additional property, but is instead speculating on an increase in property values over time based upon the investment and efforts of others. The legislation is focused on avoiding the cycle of vacancy and blight by reducing the time period in which these properties remain vacant and deteriorate.
- The second bill empowers all local governments to recoup taxpayer-paid abatement expenses and administrative enforcement costs by classifying those costs as tax liens on the property.
“Rebuilding a community consumed by blight is not an easy task, but this legislation will give local governments the necessary tools to begin that endeavor,” Rep. James Johnson, D-New Castle, who will sponsor the bills in the House of Representatives, said in a written statement. “By empowering local governments to better repurpose building and homes, communities have a chance to avoid falling victim to crime and housing vacancy, and residents can move on a successful path forward.”
“Hardworking Delawareans shouldn’t have their quality of life determined by property owners around them who aren’t truly invested in their communities,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, the Senate sponsor of the legislation. “This legislation empowers local governments like New Castle County to ensure home buyers are going to be good neighbors that don’t have track records of abandoning properties and harming our neighborhoods.”
The steps announced yesterday build on recent efforts undertaken by County government to combat vacant and abandoned properties. These include:
- A Vacant Housing Working Group was established last year to bring key stakeholders together to develop strategies for reducing vacant, abandoned and blighted properties. It consists of representatives from the County Executive’s Office, County Council, County departments of Public Safety, Community Services (Housing Programs), Land Use (Code Enforcement), Finance, Law and Administrative Services (Geographic Information System), along with the Attorney General’s Office and the New Castle County Sheriff’s Office.
- The Department of Community Services has secured two grants from the Delaware State Housing Authority to tackle vacant, abandoned and blighted properties and created the ReVaMP program to provide forgivable down payment and settlement assistance loans to qualified homebuyers who purchased a vacant home in targeted areas across the County.
- The Department of Land Use developed a working list of vacant properties most in need of maintenance and has initiated demolitions and emergency repairs.
The new home on the site of yesterday’s event is being developed by Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware with federal funds provided through the New Castle County Department of Community Services. The property is one of two dozen affordable housing units developed in Dunleith by Interfaith Housing, in partnership with New Castle County. New Castle County has assisted in the redevelopment of 247 properties since 2009 in neighborhoods along the Route 9 corridor.
Contact: Jason Miller, Director of Communications, 302-545-1462