Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series on the process used by the city of Urbana to address nuisance structures.
The process of finding a dilapidated structure to be in violation of the city of Urbana’s nuisance code is one thing, but acquiring the funds necessary to abate the nuisance, especially if that involves razing the structure, is another thing.
Under the city’s nuisance code, if the director of administration determines a structure is a public nuisance through evidence provided by the city’s Nuisance Division, Champaign County Building Regulations and Champaign Health District, he or she has the authority to serve a notice to the property owner to abate the nuisance. If the notice to abate is not followed and the issue has passed through the legal process, the director of administration then has the right to carry out the abatement.
In instances in which the abatement of a nuisance structure involves demolition, someone has to pay. Often, this means the city must come up with the funds. The price tag to demolish nuisance properties has ranged from $3,000 to $14,698 depending on a variety of factors.
“If I go in tomorrow and say this house has been empty for 15 years and we are going to require the property owner to fix it up or tear it down, we have to have the funds in place in order to abate it,” Community Development Manager Doug Crabill said.
While bigger cities often have funds dedicated to the removal of dilapidated structures, most smaller cities like Urbana do not.
“There is some money put in code enforcement for nuisance abatement, but it’s usually not enough to handle a structure,” Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said. “We may have to fund (a demolition) up front and then try to recoup our money any way we can.”
The city’s nuisance code states the costs of abatement may be collected by filing a civil suit against the property owner or “by the clerk of council certifying to the county auditor the total costs to be placed upon the county tax duplicate as a lien on the property affected and collected as other taxes and remitted to the city.”
“A lot of the time it’s done through an assessment,” Brugger said, adding this process leads to city dollars being tied up. “There are times, depending on what it is, where you end up writing it off or removing it at a future date in order to get the property re-purposed. It’s all done on a case-by-case basis.”
Past successes, current status of structural nuisances
Between 2010 and 2014, the city used $215,765.82 in grant funding to demolish structures on 26 properties.
In 2010 and 2011, 13 properties had structures removed at a total cost of $111,585.83, which was funded through grant money provided by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).
“NSP was basically CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money that was designated by the federal government to this program,” Crabill said.
In 2014, another 13 demolitions were completed citywide at a cost of $104,179.99, which was fully funded by grant money provided through the Moving Ohio Forward Program received by Champaign County.
“Both of these grant programs didn’t require a local match, fortunately,” Crabill said. “These programs did help to take several houses out of being a blight in the neighborhood.”
While there are no grants currently available for the abatement of nuisance structures through demolition, the city is in the process of razing a burned garage at 302-304 E. Church St., which has become a safety concern.
“It’s a public nuisance at this point, and we don’t want kids in the neighborhood wandering into the garage,” Brugger said.
Crabill added the city has used its standard nuisance process to address the issue.
“The property owner has been non-responsive to complying with our order to demolish the garage and/or bring the garage up to code,” he said.
Since nothing has been done to abate the nuisance, the city’s plan, pending council’s approval on the demolition expenses, is to raze the garage and recoup the costs from the property owner.
“The property owner will have an opportunity to pay the city for its costs incurred to abate,” Crabill said. “If the city does not receive payment, then an assessment will be placed on the property.
“We’ve requested quotations from three contractors, and these quotations are due back on Monday, July 6,” he added.
Crabill said he isn’t aware of any new grant programs available for the removal of structural nuisances, but in the future, the city may be able to use CDBG funding to help cover some of those costs.
“In this current CDBG application round, two townships applied for demos of homes that are unoccupied and need to be abated,” he said. “… the townships are going to kick in some money for each home and match it with the CDBG dollars.”
Crabill went on to say, “CDBG has two objectives and one is to help low- to moderate-income folks. If it doesn’t meet that requirement, then it can be used for elimination of slum and blight.
“So, you can use CDBG to remove dilapidated structures, but the challenge with that is there are certain federal laws about displacing residents of a home. So if a home is occupied, you have to relocate those people,” he added.
As for the city possibly setting aside money in the future for the demolition of dilapidated structures, Brugger said, “The local government funds continue to be squeezed from the state level, so trying to get additional funds earmarked for these types of projects are challenging. We’d rather spend our funds on infrastructure and that type of thing. I’m not saying we won’t. We just have to look at those on a case-by-case basis.
“We always try to put ourselves in the best position we can. (Demolition) isn’t something you can automatically budget for because you don’t know if you are going to have any or more than one in a year,” he added.