COVINGTON - Rocky the Raccoon and his family were very unhappy when they learned of the City's new pilot program that targets vacant and blighted property in Covington. On the other hand, Covington residents will probably find the Community Developer Program to be ablessing.
The program aims to put some of the over 800 long-time blighted or vacant properties back into productive use by leveraging the City's interest in such properties for the benefit of community-minded residents, community organizations, and developers who see the potential that Covington holds for residential real estate development.
The pilot program seeks to provide "Community Developers" (potential buyers) with assistance acquiring blighted properties owned by those who have abandoned a property, and who, in most cases, cannot be located or contacted directly with an offer to buy.
The program leverages the interests that the City holds in these properties, such as liens and delinquent taxes, and the expertise of its Legal Department to acquire properties through foreclosure in order to transfer the property to a resident or developer that has submitted a thoughtful plan for the project.
'Community Developers' submit an Expression of Interest and act as the catalyst for the process.
The City does not offer a 'shopping list' of available properties for people to choose from. The Community Developers drive the program by identifying those properties in which the residents have an interest in redeveloping for a variety of purposes.
Program criteria are straight forward. The City must possess an interest in the property, i.e. Delinquent taxes, Labor and Material liens and/or liens filed pursuant to a final determination issued by the Code Enforcement Board.
After the applicant has committed to the program and the transaction is approved by the City Commission, the applicant deposits a nonrefundable fee to defray the costs of bringing a foreclosure action. Developers are also required to commit an amount sufficient to cover the costs of the foreclosure and the purchase of the property.
Ultimately, the City bids no more than the amount deposited by the Developer upon the public sale of the property. If the City prevails, it then transfers the property to the Developer in accordance with the parties' understanding. If the City does not prevail, all monies are returned to the Developer except for the costs associated with filing the action. Under all circumstances, the City refunds any amounts that are credited by the Master Commission on account of City liens, to the Developer, as well as any monies that were not spent on court costs or the acquisition of the property.
The program is the brainchild of new Interim City Solicitor Christian Dennery. He designed the program after working closely with the Division of Community Services, which is responsible for the administration of the code enforcement process and for filing housing liens.
Dennery discovered that millions of dollars' worth of liens have gone unclaimed over the years, and that most of these dollars were attributable to vacant and blighted properties that the City routinely maintains. Last year, the City spent over $300,000 on grass cutting alone.
"For some time, City staff has been aware that vacant properties are costing the City a tremendous amount of time, energy and money." said Dennery. "After working with them closely on the lien processes, I realized that, short of a functional land bank, foreclosure was the answer to getting the properties back into productive use and to reducing the City's workload."
Last year, Mike Yeager, City Engineer, spearheaded the adoption of a Resolution, which provided for the costs of demolishing about 40 blighted properties and bringing about 20 foreclosure actions againstabandoned properties, with a view of getting the properties back into productive use and cleaning up the community. Together with the pilot program, the City anticipates being able to achieve its ultimate goal of putting as many vacant properties back into productive use as is possible with the resources currently on hand.
As of Tuesday's Commission meeting, the City has received Commitment Letters for 16 properties out of over 60 initial expressions of interest.
Community Developers and current Covington residents such as Stephen and Marcia Hardewig, Kelley Ward, Broke Heidler and Chad Irey have an interest in purchasing vacant lots next to their homes to add off-street parking or to expand their yards.
Community organizations such as Center for Great Neighborhoods (CGN) and the Housing Authority of Covington (HAC) seek to acquire properties as part of their homeownership programs.
Dennery stresses this is a pilot program. "This is our first test batch. The people who have signed up for this program know they are guinea pigs, however, we feel confident that the outcomes will be as anticipated," said Dennery.
When asked what his advice is to the raccoons who may have taken residence in vacant properties throughout the City, Dennery said "They may want to store up and start packing."
The entire process is estimated to take up to 6 months to complete and applicants should be aware that they are taking a monetary risk with no guarantees of acquiring property.