December 17, 2014
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Editorial
Preserving neighborhood values

Why would someone walk away from an investment?

But that has been happening ever since the sub-prime mortgage popped the housing market bubble.

It is understandable that a property owner faced with a mortgage that is greater than the value of his property would call it quits and walk away from his initial investment. What’s incomprehensible is that the financial institutions holding these mortgages would not act to protect their investments, albeit less than what was loaned.

But that’s reality and it has proven to be a daunting challenge for the city’s minimum housing department seeking to respond to complaints of abandoned property. Finding the responsible owner frequently requires a paper chase that starts with the recorded owner, who has often left the city and perhaps the state, and then a maze of financial institutions that conceivably haven’t taken title through foreclosure.

Meanwhile, these properties often become neighborhood eyesores. Once groomed lawns become wild fields, windows are broken, copper piping and other valuables from interiors are stolen and swimming pools become filled with leaves and debris posing a hazard to adventuresome kids and breeding pools for mosquitoes.

They are more than simply nuisances, maintains Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur. They depreciate neighborhoods and present a threat to firefighters should they be called to respond to a fire.

Ladouceur reasons a vacant property allowed to fall into disrepair acts to lower the values of surrounding properties, thereby making it difficult for those owners to obtain home equity loans and maintain, if not upgrade, their investments. A single abandoned property is the start to a downward spiral.

In addition, he points out if these properties were to be inhabited, the people living in them would be contributing to the local economy and that, in turn, would reinforce local businesses and the prospect of ensuring their success and even growth.

Ladouceur, who was elected in November and assumed office in January, took on the issue, looking to give the city the tools to go after those abandoning their properties. The ordinance he introduced was given first passage earlier this month and seeks to address the problem with the registration of vacant properties and a mechanism of fees and fines to ensure they are properly maintained.

There is a lot to be said for the manner in which Ladouceur recognized the impact of this problem and then tackled it. His assessment of the effects of abandoned properties can’t be disputed. In seeking to address it, he realized answers needed to come from multiple sources. Police, fire, the tax assessor, the mayor’s office, solicitor and building department all had seats at the table. The ordinance was their collective effort.

Will it work?

That’s hard to say.

But, with such a collective effort, Ladouceur has given it a good shot. We thank him and those who worked with him for that.


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