The city’s flood prone properties buyout program – the Northside Buyback Program — is progressively moving forward with city officials stating eight properties have been purchased in recent months and four more are slated for closing in matter of weeks.
City officials said four vacant lots and four buildings have been purchased since the beginning of July, when the new administration of Jose “Joey” Torres came to power. Another four properties are set for closing in the coming weeks, according to officials.
“They’ve purchased properties and have closed on several,” said Barbara McLennon, acting director of Community Development department. McLennon said during the summer months the city purchased two properties every 30 days.
Since hurricane Irene devastated the city’s northern quarters in August of 2011, city officials have been slow to purchase flood prone properties around Bergen, Hillman, and North Main Streets.
The city has $7.8 million to operate the program: $5.76 million from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and $2 million from Passaic County. Using those funds the city intends to purchase 33 properties. A city official said all 33 property owners have been contacted; however, some have responded and others have yet to respond.
“We’re still in the process of buying the properties: evaluating, appraising, and once the homeowner and the attorneys agree, we cut a check,” said McLennon.
Some property owners, although receptive to the city’s intentions, have disputed the dollar value the city’s appraiser placed on their property, at times hindering the program’s progress. “Some have backed out,” added McLennon. “Some are saying [city’s offering price is] too little.”
McLennon mentioned one property owner, who disputed the city’s valuation of the property. The owner claimed the property was worth $10,000 more than what the city’s appraiser had valued it. To settle the dispute city officials obtained approval from FEMA to increase the purchase price to placate the owner.
Although the program is moving forward, the properties being purchased are not contagious, an issue the city council raised. “I want to ensure these are contagious properties, if you start buying a lot here, then another lot half-mile away, then another lot four blocks away, it really doesn’t do anything but create additional blight in that neighborhood,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
Morris, who is chairman of the community development committee, said he is against purchasing vacant properties. “There’s no need to buy vacant lands in this program,” said Morris.
The councilman said purchasing contagious properties will allow the city to turn the area into something scenic or useful to neighborhood residents.
“If you buy contiguous properties, now you can do something: you can create a park, a river walk, a basketball court, or something that can uplift the neighborhood,” said Morris.
Officials estimate the bulk of the properties will be purchased by March 2015.