By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Residents in the Memorial Parkway area have gained a few neighbors.
The city auctioned off three houses near Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center on Wednesday night in an effort to promote home ownership and get city owned, tax-foreclosed houses back on the tax rolls.
Chloe Long, a summer and after school program instructor at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, won the auction for a 10th Street house near Ferry Avenue with a high bid of $950.
"I'm so excited," Long said, beaming as she and her fiancee, Stanley Sigle, stood at the front of council chambers at City Hall filling out paperwork.
Long, who was born and raised in Niagara Falls, said she can't wait to refurbish the home's historic features and move in with Sigle and her six children.
"I think this is a great way to restore Niagara Falls," Long said.
Sigle, who gained trades skills as part of a Navy construction crew, will do most of the work with the help of family and people he works with in a real estate rehabilitation company he recently started called Flippin Bricks Investments.
Long wasn't sure she was going to be able to stay in her hometown before hearing about the auction and winning the right to rehabilitate the house. She recently had a home purchase fall through and was considering moving back to the Georgia, she said.
"I think this is going to help the city to reclaim its beauty and encourage people to stay here," Long said. "Because this was it for me."
Long remembers watching friends and relatives move away throughout the decades, often leaving unclaimed homes behind, she said.
"Everyone called this place a graveyard, but I've always had this feeling that, you know what, it just takes one person at a time to have enough faith to go back to Niagara Falls," Long said. "If all of us can come back together I believe that there will be an opportunity to restore the place and to actually add value to the city."
The sale of the house comes with a set of stipulations, as the auctions - this was the first of what the city hopes to be many - are part of a larger program called "Niagara Falls Open House" run by the Community Development department.
In agreeing to buy the house after winning an auction the buyers will be contractually obligated to:
• Live in the house for a minimum of five years.
• Submit a repair and rehabilitation plan to the city within 60 days.
• Agree to bring the house up to code within a specific timeframe.
• Submit a property management plan within 60 days if the house has multiple units.
• Be in good financial standing with the city.
The other two houses, both on Memorial Parkway, went for high bids of $1,750 and $2,650.
Winning bidders will next sit down with community development staff to discuss a rehabilitation plan. The sales will then need approval from the city's planning board and city council.
The house auction comes on the heels of the first program launched as part of "Niagara Falls Open House" in which the city offers vacant lots to owners of adjacent homes for prices well below the assessed value.
The city sold its first batch of lots in August.
Seth Piccirillo, the director of the city's community development department, said that by promoting home ownership the city not only reaps the benefits of property taxes it strengthens neighborhoods and drives up real estate prices in those neighborhoods.
"Home ownership is a game changer," Piccirillo said. "It saves and strengthens neighborhoods. This auction is about being proactive and having a plan. The community does want these houses to end up demolished or owned by a slumlord."
Piccirillo, who ran the auction, said the event had a larger draw than he was expecting, with 14 bidders and over 25 people in attendance.
"I honestly came into this thinking we would approve one house," Piccirillo said. "I never thought we would do three."
Community Development spent no money on advertising and was able to get more for the houses than expected, Piccirillo said.
"These houses have been just sitting on a list," Piccirillo said. "I think what that shows you is that if you do some active marketing and give some reasonable prices you could do something really productive with these houses."
Piccirillo was not sure what to expect going into Wednesday's auction, but with the amount of interest that was exhibited in the program from residents he will push for another auction as soon as possible, he said.
"We can do this every two months," Piccirillo said. "It didn't cost us any money. We didn't hire an auctioneer. We just did it."
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257