Could blight-burdened neighborhoods take control of abandoned homes and sell them?
The threat of conservatorship is oftentimes enough to convince the owner to do something with it, to rehabilitate it'
- Joeff Davis/CL File
- Eyesore be gone!
Vine City and English Avenue are a case study in how Atlanta’s vacant properties can decay for years, seemingly bulletproof to code enforcement. Now Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young Jr., who represents the area, is pushing for a new weapon against blight: conservatorship.
His “Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship” proposal would allow a court-appointed third party to take possession of a blighted property to rehab it, then sell it for fair market value. The current owner would get first dibs on buying it.
“About half to three-quarters of my district is in what I would call a state of emergency. The amount of abandonment…has turned parts of my district into a public safety nightmare,” Young tells CL. “Conservatorship is an awesome tool for us to have when we are left at the mercy of these investors…who hold onto properties without any sign of doing anything with those properties.”
Right now, the city has only two main options against blighted sites: ticket the heck out of them, and order their demolition if they’re too far gone. Young says that has little impact on the main causes of blight: absentee investors waiting to flip properties, and heirs who inherit houses they can’t afford to maintain.
“We simply have not developed good policy around how we manage property that is not code-compliant,” says Young, describing the current program as citation-focused. “Occupancy is the only solution.”
? ? ?
Cities in many other states have conservatorship programs; Young cites Pennsylvania as one inspiration. Conservatorship also is frequently cited as a “best practice” against abandoned and blighted properties by members of the United States Conference of Mayors.
“The threat of conservatorship is oftentimes enough to convince the owner to do something with it, to rehabilitate it,” Young says.
Melissa Mullinax, a senior advisor to Mayor Kasim Reed, says the administration thinks the conservatorship idea is a “worthwhile conversation.”
But she also spoke cautiously about its details: “The question is whether there can be a policy solution that respects private-property rights of investor-owned properties on the one hand and the desire of communities not to have vacant/blighted properties in their neighborhoods, given the well-documented adverse effects blighted properties have on communities.”
Young said pushback has yet to materialize on property-rights issues, or the possibility of conservatorship letting longtime scofflaws off the hook for code violations. He emphasized that neighborhoods are ultimately paying the biggest penalties for blighted properties in them.
Conservatorship has “overwhelming support” from council members, Young says. But a previous version he floated last year didn’t move ahead, and the current version he’s pushing has been held in committee.
The big reason: Atlanta can’t create conservatorship by itself. State government would need to pass a law to permit it.
Young wants that to happen quickly. He says he’ll ask the council to approve the general idea in a non-binding resolution. Then he will press for conservatorship to be included in the city’s official list of legislative requests that will be submitted to the Gold Dome when state lawmakers convene in January. Mullinax said she can’t yet comment on what the legislative package will include.
Meanwhile, Young is also contacting leaders in other major Georgia cities asking them to support conservatorship, which he says could be a powerful option for them as well. “You’d be surprised at the number of smaller cities and towns that have the same issue,” he says.