Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The answer is: Receivership

The question is posed by the headline of this Washington City Paper article, "What Can Elected Officials Do About D.C. Slumlords?" From the article:
“It’s frustrating because we have incredibly strong tenant protections, and yet negligent landlords still find a way to persist,” [Councilmember] Nadeau says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges that we face.”
I wrote about this earlier in the month (See "Receivership as a strategy for notorious nuisance properties"), in response to a City Paper cover story on a slumlord, making the same point:
In that article, Mari commented (which I seem to have missed), writing:
Why they aren't being seized... might be because of what happens the day after the property is seized.

DC government is a lousy landowner. When DC Gov takes a property it will sit vacant for years..... YEARS. DC Gov also doesn't appear interested in being a landlord. To hand if off to a non-profit seems interesting, but what non-profit out there that presently exists that is a real non-profit and not a "non-profit" that only exists to get contracts from municipalities? 
Taking a property would make an impact, but it would also use up a lot of resources.
This is my response:
I missed this comment. You are of course, absolutely right.

In my early writings, I joked that DC's primary property management strategy is "demolition by neglect." And that in an objective evaluation, using criteria of the Housing Courts in Ohio, DCG wouldn't be deemed a credible and eligible receiver, based on past practice.

That's why starting from the very beginning, I've argued that DCG shouldn't be the receiver, but capable nonprofits.

In Ohio, such activities are monitored by the Housing Court, so a receiver has to act, implement the plan to cure the nuisance, or they lose control of the property too. And receivers that fail don't get properties awarded to them in the future.  [added -- Failure is not rewarded, unlike the current process.]

I can't claim to know all the ins and outs of the various nonprofits in DC, but one that I observe to be very credible is Jubilee Housing. An organization like that could become a receiver.   (There are some good for profit property managers. They could act as receivers too.)

In Cleveland, it was the Cleveland Restoration Society (but because the job was so difficult, they got out of it for awhile). They were motivated to save historic properties from demolition.

And recently I wrote about a "nonprofit" business in Philadelphia set up to cure nuisances and make them habitable, usable properties that strengthen the neighborhood. (I can't claim to like their design choices but they do good work otherwise.) See "A great example of the market at work: making a business in restoring blighted properties/curing nuisances (Philadelphia)."

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At 1:49 PM, Blogger Mari said...

But only the government can enact eminent domain, and when the government gets it, it holds on for years.
The inefficient party (DC gov) is a necessary party so it doesn't matter if there is a great private organization out there if the inefficient party holds on to the property too long.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

eminent domain is different from receivership. It doesn't have to be the case that it takes "years." Look up the Ohio statute. It's a process that involves the courts, but not the executive branch of "government," as the determining factor. (Yes, the building regulation/code enforcement function is involved, but no that agency isn't the primary-lead in an effort triggering receivership.)

The issue is having objective criteria about what constitutes a nuisance.

And again, the process I recommend would be like Ohio's.

Because yes, you are absolutely right that the land control process as previously illustrated by various DC Government actions does not indicate that this would be the kind of solution that it could execute well.

And the point isn't to take over properties, it's to cure nuisances, in favor of the tenants in rental housing, and neighborhoods in terms of other types of housing.

2. Apparently there is an issue in Anacostia, where residents want the L'Enfant Trust to take over four properties controlled by DC Dept. of Housing and Community Development, houses that have languished for years.

But the city government doesn't favor this.

That doesn't surprise me. The executive very rarely willingly gives up power and prerogative.

But the focus needs to shift from power to outcome.

Because as you point out the last thing we need is properties that languish for years and years, merely with a switch in the primary actor being deficient, but no change in the outcome.

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Mari's point is excellent.

We know that the process in DC is a well, a bit, special, and maybe ownership/receivership isn't the issue.

I'd say start aligning incentives.

Bad landlords exist because it a great way to make money.

The real key is the threat of removing a property from section 8 vouchers.

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it has been my contention for some that our own Capitol Hill restoration Society should transform itself into an outfit that shows others HOW to restore/renovate fragile historic structures- and they should embark on a program of actually buying up distressed old properties and then using various means to restore them- and then place them back on the market or turn them into a sort of real estate bank . Maybe something like this could be done down the road. It would have the potential to change the rather stodgy and backwards obsolete image of this society that has in recent decades done questionable things in the guise of " historic preservation". Do by example what needs to be done and stop worrying so much about peripheral issues like stopping bike share stations, stopping streetcars and over reacting to parking being taken away[ parking preservation].

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt Anon's point, preservation groups in Macon, Georgia; New Orleans; Galveston; and the aforementioned Cleveland Restoration Society are national best practice examples on this dimension. (Because the market can be weak, the Galveston preservation organization actually manages some of these properties as rentals.)

The concept of "revolving funds" is very old. A major publication on the topic dates to about 1975, and was co-authored by top preservation advocates from Pittsburgh and Savannah, which were pioneers in the area.

It has always shocked me, ever since I got involved in preservation related matters c. 2001, that DC preservation organizations were not a player in this arena.

2. While Historic Takoma has a reflexive opposition to what I would call surgical infill (at the Metro, at Takoma Junction), on the dimension of supporting innovative efforts, they are reasonably remarkable, at least in the DC area.

They helped to start the Takoma low power community radio station, WOWD, and they let other organizations use their space, which has some nice community appropriately sized facilities.

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I think receivership is important as a necessary "big stick" able to be used, even if it doesn't get used very much.

Without the threat, the actors not predisposed to do the right thing won't do the right thing.

But the point about barring property owners from Sec. 8 participation because of failure to provide adequate properties is worth doing/a good idea.

But it would require independent regular inspections. Desperate tenants not able to find housing alternatives may not report sub-standard properties for fear of losing out. A bad landlord wouldn't have to do retaliatory eviction, merely let the property get shut down and the tenants are screwed.


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