As a real estate investor I have purchased many properties over the years. Many of the properties I have acquired have been somewhat distressed, some seriously distressed, and in need of repair. One of my strategies has been to take houses that most people look at as unsalvageable, rehabilitate them and get them back on the market, most of the time as affordable housing.
Why do I mention this? At Tuesday’s Council meeting we had a long discussion about severely distressed houses that create urban blight and what the City should do about them. The past Council considered adopting a Property Maintenance Ordinance (PMO), which in my opinion would have essentially created a City-wide Homeowners Association. Fortunately, that idea was finally put to rest Tuesday night with Council effectively killing the PMO. In its place Council proposed using existing code to address the issue of severely blighted and distressed homes. We’re essentially talking about unsalvageable houses ready for the wrecking ball, which is a very small percentage of our housing stock.
In my opinion, this tool of forcing owners to comply should rarely need to be used, if ever. As I mentioned, most properties can be saved and most of the time the private sector does this. If they didn’t our City would look very different than it does today. Despite a few sensational photos you may see, severely blighted houses are rare. Properties whose only option is total destruction is extremely rare. Out of over 20,000 housing units, how many are that bad? A handful?
I know this from first hand experience. I’ve been involved with plenty of projects where I was told the house was ready to be demolished but in the end was able to rehabilitate the home. I’ve done several in the Sunny Side Neighborhood. Several of these properties were boarded up and abandoned. The insides covered in graffiti and being used as a party house with empty alcohol bottles and evidence of drug use and who knows what else. Myself and my partner at the time convinced the owner to sell it at a good price and we gutted and remodeled it. We took a property that was being sold as land only and brought it back to life. Even the seller thought it was ready for the wrecking ball and sold it accordingly priced. We fixed it and then sold it for a very reasonable price to a first time homebuyer. Just like that, an abandoned house was saved and rehabilitated, thus helping the environment and providing affordable housing. This is the private sector in action.
From a bathtub about to fall through the floor to brand new! We even were able to refinish and save the tub!
I’ve done this in other locations and I’m not the only one. This isn’t a rare exception to the rule, it is the rule. I know plenty of builders and investors who do this all the time. Houses are new, they get old and they need remodeling and depending on their state of disrepair they fetch different prices. Eventually an investor or homeowner will bring them back to life. So while advocates for strict codes and enforcement will often put up pictures of some very scary looking houses, one can argue that houses that become distressed and are in need of serious remodel help our community by providing the future affordable housing stock. Call it the cycle of life for a house, if you will.
I do acknowledge that once in a while a poperty is so far gone there is no choice but to demo it. Most of the time the owner or private sector will take care of this as well since the property is generally only worth land value at this point. Again, usually someone comes in and scaps up the deal, makes a profit and provides the community with affordable housing. Again, the circle of life. Once in a while the City needs to step in and facilitate the process to preserve the private property rights of the community and adjacent neighbors. In these rare, very, very, rare cases we need to proceed carefully and ensure private property rights are preserved.
I am open to solutions to these rare cases but lets keep this in perspetive. Sometimes we look for problems for solutions. The private sector will take care of most of these problems the vast majority of time without the need for the City to get involved. Flagstaff, with it’s scarcity of land is unlikely to ever see blocks of burnt out urban blight that some larger cities see. Let’s address those rare worst case issues but let’s not overreact and most importantly let’s respect private property rights, one of the cornerstones of our nation.
Before and after of the dining room. Yes, this is the same room.