New Castle County takes aim at vacant properties

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County Executive Matthew Meyer was joined this week 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 an ordinance 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.

The ceremony took place in Dunleith, a neighborhood in the Route 9 corridor south of Wilmington.

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“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,” 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.”

Meyer signedlegislation sponsored by Council member David L. Tackettthat establishes new authority to offset the County’s costs for monitoring and maintaining vacant properties and to ensure full compliance with its existing vacant housing registry. The legislation:

  • 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,”Tackett said.

Meyer also introduced a new vacant property strategy, 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;
  • Dtreamlining 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 state legislation which will be introduced in the coming days by State Rep. 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.
  • 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.

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 County 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 byInterfaith Community Housing of Delawarewith 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 byInterfaith 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.

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