New Castle County’s Vacant Spaces to Livable Places initiative has reduced the number of vacant properties by 30 percent and over the past year has collected more than $1 million in delinquent taxes and fees.
“Vacant and abandoned properties harm communities, drive down property values and impose financial costs on local government,” County Executive Matt Meyer said. “That’s why early in my administration we launched a comprehensive strategy to turn these eyesores into occupied homes that strengthen communities and drive higher quality of life. I’m proud that this effort has delivered results by moving 400 vacant spaces toward livable places and collected more than $1 million for taxpayers. Thanks to new and effective collaboration across county government, determined enforcement action and strong support from state and county partners we will continue to aggressively build on this progress.”
Over the past decade the number of vacant and abandoned properties across the county steadily increased, surpassing 1,300 properties by January 2017 that were being monitored or maintained by county government.
The previous county administration started a program in 2016 aimed at addressing the problem.
The properties attract crime, become dumping grounds for waste and are targets for arson. Also, local government is forced to pay for maintenance, grass mowing and waste removal. Additionally, vacant and abandoned properties have been shown to depress neighborhood property values and they reduce tax revenue.
In early 2017, County Executive Meyer launched the County’s Vacant Spaces to Livable Places initiative, guided by the most comprehensive strategy in county history to tackle this pressing challenge. The strategy consisted of four components:
- Directing a multi-disciplinary Vacant Housing Working Group to work across county government to reduce vacant, abandoned and blighted properties.
- Amending county ordinance provisions to establish new authority to recover the County’s costs for monitoring and maintaining vacant properties and to strengthen the county’s vacant property registry by imposing additional registration requirements and increasing financial costs for owners of vacant and blighted properties.
- Securing changes to state law to give local governments authority to recoup abatement expenses as tax liens on vacant properties and allow county government to prequalify bidders at Sheriffs Sale in order to ensure that bidders are not themselves delinquent in local taxes and fees or property code violations.
- Issuing an Executive Order that empowers county departments to initiate sheriff sales of vacant and blighted properties and sets criteria for putting a priority on those properties.
By 2018, the county formalized a process to regularly review the county’s stock of vacant and abandoned housing and began moving those with the highest delinquent taxes and sewer and code enforcement fees and those driving public safety calls for service towards a Sheriff’s Sale.