SUNDAY EDITION | Louisville Hopes New Kentucky Law Will Help Transform Vacant and Abandoned Homes | In depth
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Grabbing a cracked cement slab, Kevin Manring barely has to pull before it collapses. It just reveals more of the potential problems: layers of brittle bricks are supporting the house.
Even with these flaws, he said this is one of the best homes he has visited this week.
Manring, a former home inspector, and property coordinator Linette Huelsman walked through the creaky Griffiths Avenue home in the Portland neighborhood, peering it from floor to ceiling. They were both hired by the city to sell properties on the Metropolitan Government’s land reserve, in turn reducing the number of vacant and abandoned properties in Louisville.
“One thing that never gets old is seeing the transformation,” Huelsman said.
The Community Development Office has made strides over the past decade to give vacant properties a second chance, using tools like foreclosure to put homes in new hands. But this process can drag on for months and worsen the deterioration of structures that are often in poor condition to begin with.
That may soon change. City officials are preparing for a new Kentucky law to come into effect in January that gives third parties the ability to repair vacant and abandoned homes before they can be sold. The goal is to quickly rehabilitate and sell the houses. The Kentucky General Assembly approved the “conservation” program for cities earlier this year.
“Conservation is, when you think about it, a lot like guardianship of people,” said Laura Grabowski, director of the community development office. “So if you have someone who can no longer take care of themselves, the court can appoint a guardian to take care of them. It’s like that for buildings.
The law allows cities to choose abandoned properties that have the potential to be rehabilitated and to ask the court to appoint a curator. If a judge approves, the curator can get straight to work fixing the property. Once the work is complete, the court would authorize the sale of the property, giving the restaurateur 15% of the sale.
“So the end result is similar to the foreclosure process, but it improves homes faster,” Grabowski said. “It helps neighborhoods, helps neighborhood residents, and it also helps prevent some of our historic structures from heading for demolition.”
There are approximately 5,000 vacant and abandoned properties at any given time in Louisville. These include homes, commercial properties, and land.
Most of the vacant properties are in the western neighborhoods of Louisville.
When Mayor Greg Fischer took office 11 years ago, he made it a priority to clean up vacant properties. During a visit to abandoned homes in 2012, he told a crowd gathered for a press conference that the vacant property problem in Louisville “was caused by the” Great Recession “and the foreclosure crisis.”
At the time, Fischer said the city would spend $ 1.5 million of public funds received by the city that year to help with the cleanup.
“It’s going to take years to get out of this,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we can’t erase all of this immediately, but it’s a hell of a good step.”
Since 2012, the city has continued to invest money in the vacant real estate projects of the Community Development Office. The city has budgeted $ 3.8 million this year, up from $ 2.5 million last year. This budget allows the department to do things like demolish about 100 properties and ban 100 more each year.
Huelsman, who was visiting the Portland home, was hired seven years ago to be part of that team. She believes that progress is being made slowly but surely.
“Seven years ago, I mean, everything was just a boarding house, a boarding house, a boarding house,” she said, pointing to the street. “It’s pretty cool now to see how many blocks have improved. “
Beyond demolition and foreclosure, the city has used the Landbank Authority to hand properties directly into the hands of local developers or buyers who have the resources to fix them and call them homes again. The Landbank Authority, a cooperative effort of the main Louisville metro tax authorities, has sold 567 abandoned properties since 2012.
“And that’s what keeps us going,” Manring said. “Man! We get something like that and then it’s like, ‘Let’s go to the next one! Let’s do another one!’ It’s our passion.
The foreclosure process can take 18 months or more.
“With the trusteeship we can hopefully speed things up a bit until we can stabilize the properties,” Huelsman said. “Because some of them just won’t last. They won’t last all 18 months.
State law makes guardianship possible from January 1, but it is up to local governments to achieve it. The Louisville Community Development Office is now preparing by sifting through thousands of potential properties. Grabowski said the city plans to test the new program with just eight properties next year.
“If that is successful – and we hope it will – we hope to be able to do more than eight a year,” she said.
Grabowski said there are safeguards built into the law and his team is developing their own policies and procedures to ensure this program is used responsibly. These could include how restaurateurs are selected, for example.
Before considering the property abandoned and the curatorial process engaged, the owner or lien holder would have already received several notifications. They would also be informed throughout the conservation process and would have the right to intervene.
“I understand the concern, and it’s always a concern when we see properties being returned,” Grabowski said. “But that’s not a scenario where the grandmother is in a retirement home or grandma’s property is still there and ‘I’m an heir.” That’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about it. let’s talk about properties that are really abandoned.
To prevent large out-of-state developers from rushing to claim blocks of houses, the property and curator must be recommended by the city and approved by a judge. And the city is making it a priority to seek out local entrepreneurs – including minority entrepreneurs with ties to west Louisville – to create a list of potential restaurateurs for the task.
“We intend to recommend restaurateurs with experience in affordable rehabilitative housing,” she said.
Grabowski believes good progress has been made over the years, but his staff still receive daily calls from residents begging them to help do something about the plague in their neighborhoods.
“They say it’s scary to live near these places with boards and rats,” she said. “It’s nothing that you want your kids to spend to go to school. You don’t want to park nearby.
“So sometimes we only manage one house, it can make all the difference to the neighbors around it.”
Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.