By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – The city is considering working with the Atlantic County Improvement Authority to get abandoned properties fixed up, sold and occupied.
Officials discussed introducing an ordinance that would allow the city to assume ownership of several eyesore properties using funding provided by the ACIA to acquire the properties and make needed improvements. The ACIA would be reimbursed for its costs once the property is sold.
“It was successful in Collingswood,” Commissioner Tim Kriebel said. “It takes the dog off the block and encourages other people to fix their homes.”
According to city solicitor Tim Maguire and members of the Code Enforcement Department, there are five nuisance properties that the city considers abandoned, some of which are foreclosures. Abandoned properties contribute to criminal activity in the neighborhood, create public health problems and diminish the quality of life for neighbors.
“They are bank-owned and have no water and sewer service for at least six months,” he said.
In February 2017, Collingswood targeted 40 abandoned properties, with developers stepping in to fix most of them. The municipality took on the task of rehabilitating 14 remaining homes and sold the first one in December 2017 at fair market value, which was more than enough to reimburse the municipality for the money it had invested.
According to Maguire, the New Jersey Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act allows municipalities take ownership of abandoned homes, provided they have a plan to fix them up and sell them. An ordinance would formalize the process and outline the steps necessary to rehabilitate the homes, he said.
“The city takes certain steps to develop the property, publishes a list of properties in the paper, notifies the property owners and at a certain point, it gets passed off to the ACIA and they go to court,” Maguire said. “The theory behind the statutory scheme is that by identifying the properties on the list, it will encourage the property owner to repair the homes themselves. However, if they don’t, it allows the city to do it.”
The hope is that by upgrading the property and increasing its value, it will encourage other property owners on the block to upgrade their own properties, Maguire said.
Collingswood borrowed $1 million to fund its program, but Ventnor officials are looking to partner with the ACIA, which would provide acquisition and repair costs and get reimbursed when the property is sold.
Owners would have 30 days after being noticed that their property is on the list to indicate if they will rehabilitate the property themselves. They will be required to file a plan with the court and abide by a timeline for repairs. Even if the city takes over the property, the owner would have first right to re-purchase the property at fair market value.
“It’s almost a no-lose proposition,” Maguire said.
The only downside is that the city might have to incur minor expenses, such as advertising and title searches, that may not be reimbursed if the sale price is not enough to cover the cost, Maguire said.
ACIA will have a team of professionals, including an architect and engineer, to review the properties before hiring a contractor to do the work, officials said.
Maguire said he would prepare the ordinance for introduction at the Jan. 10 reorganization meeting.
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