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Oklahoma City Wants To Cut Down On Backlog Of Costly Problem Properties

Sep 16, 2016

The big news that came out of this week’s Oklahoma City Council meeting involved the body formally voicing its opposition to State Question 777 – the so-called “right-to-farm” proposal.

But toward the end of Tuesday’s gathering, members also discussed abandoned buildings and the city’s list of problem properties. The city says securing blighted real estate and demolishing structures that can’t be salvaged cost the city $1.5 million over the past three fiscal years. The city’s Development Services Director Bob Tener said for every abandoned building that comes off the problem properties list, two more take its place.

“They've only been able to recover about $937,000 of that $1.5 million they've spent. So on the face of it, it doesn't look like a great investment,” said The Journal Record’s editor Ted Streuli. “But over the long haul they hope to get a number of those properties back on the tax rolls under new ownership, and they'll come out okay in the long run.”

As of June 30, the city has identified 639 abandoned buildings, but it’s a fairly new program, with only a year or two of historical data. During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Pete White said he’s interested in seeing the city take a more proactive approach when it comes to taking these buildings down.

“They have to be impacting the neighborhoods around them. I think most of them are owned by speculators anyway. You can almost guarantee that,” White said. “And I’m not sure we shouldn’t put a budget…I know it’s a tough year to be adding things to the budget, but I think it certainly would be positive. And it might have an effect of getting people to do something about them if they saw they were going to be torn down.”

The dilapidated properties and emergency response affects neighboring property values, which affects Oklahoma City taxpayers, and it’s not cheap. The Journal Record’s Brian Brus reports in the past year 307 incidents at 87 properties required a public safety response:

City staff has sent bills for a total of $89,000 in expenses and has collected only $6,000. The new ordinances are still being drafted and aren’t ready for City Council action yet.

City Hall officials thought they had a solution to the blight problem in 2013 when they created a registry to easily classify several thousand abandoned buildings for remediation. But local real estate agents took their concerns to state lawmakers at the Capitol, leading to pre-emptive legislation disallowing such a process.

By the end of 2014, the Oklahoma City Council directed Tener and his staff to tackle the issue from another angle – billing property owners for emergency response services – which has not received the same attention from the Legislature. Tener said the new ordinance is expected to be a significant cost-saver.

The most expensive property on that list was the Lantana Apartment complex at NW 10th and Rockwell, which cost the city $28,000 in public safety calls.

“By comparison, the next two properties on that list of emergency response costs came in at $6,300 and $5,200, respectively,” Streuli said. “So the next two highest - each less than one-fourth of what's required at Lantana.”

Watch Tuesday's Oklahoma City Council meeting. The abandoned building discussion begins at 2:09:20.

Councilman James Greiner’s Ward 1 includes the complex, and he said during Tuesday’s evening spending $235,000 to tear down seven fire-damaged buildings at Lantana showed developers the city is serious about addressing problem properties.

“There's a balance the city council has to strike between making Oklahoma City a clean, attractive, desirable place to live versus where they are spending the city's budget,” Streuli said.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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