Niagara Gazette

Local News

June 9, 2014

City housing auction brings little hope for change

Niagara Gazette — Plants grow out of the gutter, dirty diapers litter the walkway and the grass stands more than 3 feet high at a house with “Merry Christmas” written on the windows on 13th Street.

The home was sold in the city’s tax foreclosure auction in 2005. Since then it has had two owners — the current owner lives in Denver, according to the city’s property database — and has seen no tenants or upkeep.

Tuesday morning more than 500 abandoned, city-owned houses are on the auction block. Property seekers will gather at Antonio’s Banquet and Conference Center to vie for the houses scattered through city neighborhoods beginning at 9 a.m.

And members of the Memorial Park Neighborhood Block Club are worried that many of the 15 houses up for auction in their neighborhood will suffer similar fates to what they have dubbed the “Merry Christmas House” on 13th Street.

Block club members Ruth Cooper and Linda Gibbons have for years tracked abandoned and blighted buildings in their neighborhood.

Cooper said the houses sold at the tax foreclosure auction, referred to as the In Rem in city hall, do not have a good track record when it comes to being rehabilitated.

Many of the homes are bought by speculative investors and “slum lords,” often transferring the title the shell companies shortly after they take ownership, she added.

“To me, there’s good investment and bad investment,” Cooper said. “Our city isn’t going to recover unless we have good investment, but right now we’re only attracting the bad investors.”

Gibbons said she would like to see the city more strictly enforce rules that are on the books for the auctions — including a provision that requires the new owner to bring the building up to code by a date set by city inspectors — but would also like to see more rules and requirements for auction buyers put in place.

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