The number of properties listed in the city’s vacant and abandoned properties list have declined to 969 from 1,100 last year, according to a report issued by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration.
Statistics presented in the report largely communicate the Torres administration has been making progress with the list. 415 properties were added to the list, according to the data. The city also cleaned up the list getting rid of duplicate entries and digitalizing it to an excel spreadsheet. 370 properties have been rehabilitated, according to officials.
Ruben Gomez, the city’s economic director, said after the city sent letters out to all the properties, there was a large volume of calls to the city. Many property owners wanted to learn how to take their properties of the list, he said. Being on the list presents the serious prospect of the city seizing the building.
The slow phase at which the mayor’s neighborhood stabilization is moving has been blamed on the difficulty the city has been having in reaching the property owners.
Torres said there was a “misconception” that the city intended to acquire all of the vacant and abandoned properties. “That’s farthest from the truth,” he said. His administration came under criticism for having acquired not a single property a year after the city council passed an ordinance granting the executive branch sweeping powers to take over vacant and abandoned properties through a summary court process.
The test case, a Sherwood Avenue home, is scheduled for a status conference at the Passaic County Courthouse next week, said officials. Torres plans to sit-in on the status conference, he said.
The city is in the process of acquiring 14 properties through spot blight eminent domain, according to the data. It’s pursuing in rem – lawsuit against the property — foreclosure on 135 properties.
$601,000 was collected in abandoned properties registration and renewal fees, according to city records. It’s not clear if that figure is for the past year or since the list was created.
“Even though we got good results they could be better,” said the mayor. The results the mayor indicated are measured by not the number of properties the city has acquired, but the number it has managed to put back into the tax rolls.
Torres said the city is losing $123 million in revenue every year due to the large number of vacant and abandoned properties. 1,425 properties in the city are undergoing foreclosure, according to city records.
“Code enforcement is being stepped up,” said David Gilmore, who is working on the neighborhood stabilization program.
Torres also revealed a new piece of the program which could allow city residents to acquire some of the properties. He briefly detailed a homesteading program to allow local individuals to purchase the properties through sweat equity or reduced price.
James Staton, 1st Ward councilman, expressed concern at the delays. Torres said his administration thought six-month would suffice to produce results, but realized it may take 18 months or so.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, mentioned the grave problem abandoned properties pose to their neighbors. She said residents in her ward – where there has been several fires in abandoned properties – are worried squatters may set fire to a vacant property. A fire set to an abandoned property then would spread to one or more occupied nearby properties exacerbating the problem.