The city finally has the money to knock down dozens of houses, but demolishing them is going to take more than just cash.
Most of the blighted, burned-out and abandoned properties on the demo list aren’t owned by the city. That means the city can’t just send in the wrecking ball, even if the property has been sitting untouched for more than a decade, like Andy’s Ski Shoppe on Albany Street.
That property is at the very top of the city prioritized demolition list, labeled “unsafe.”
But it’s owned by Andrew Boncie, who does not have a local phone number listed publicly.
It’s now up to Corporation Counsel John Polster to track him down, along with 77 other property owners whose buildings are considered too dangerous to remain standing.
Then there’s the properties the city already took through foreclosure and abandonment proceedings. The city owns 65 properties, including 206 Division St., the site of a terrible fire nearly 10 years ago.
Six people died in the blaze, five of them children.
In 2007, owner Elijah Self finally got an insurance payment, but he didn’t use the money to demolish the burned-out house. He paid off the mortgage instead.
The city took the house for abandonment and nonpayment of taxes a few months later.
The house should finally be coming down this summer, Polster said.
“The burnouts, we want to go after those immediately,” he said, calling them “a danger to the community.”
He’s calling up owners and asking their permission to knock down their houses.
“Some of them we’ll acquire [in court]. Some of them we’ll get permission,” he said.
He also wants some of the owners to pay for the demolition of the property they abandoned. But he’s not going after everyone for money.
“There will be people that haven’t got a dime. It would be a senseless waste of time to put them into bankruptcy going after them,” he said, adding that he also probably won’t take legal action against the estates of deceased owners.
“We would look at that considerably differently from one where a landlord milked it for a number of years before just letting it rot,” he said.
If owners refuse to pay, Polster said he could get a court order allowing an immediate demolition while still pursuing the longer process of suing them for the costs.
In those cases, he’s planning to use an expedited court process that takes only a couple of months to get permission for demolition. Normally, it would take nine to 12 months, he said.
The lawsuits for money might not be resolved for a year, but Polster hopes to eventually get funds that could be used to pay for more demolitions.
The city has 143 properties on its demolition list and enough money for only about 80 of them.
About 40 will get knocked down this year, Polster said, starting this summer. “We’re planning to go after a number of properties this year,” he said. “We’re excited. We think we can do a lot to improve the appearance of the neighborhood.”
The city has a $2.4 million loan from HUD for the work. It won’t all be spent on demolitions; some next-door properties will be renovated when the blighted house is demolished, Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
He’s looking for areas where a little renovation plus demolition could significantly improve the neighborhood. He said he wants to “do something positive” instead of just knocking houses down.
Other options include placing garden plots or parking lots in the space once occupied by the blighted house. Parking lots could create off-street parking in dense neighborhoods, making it easier to plow narrow streets, McCarthy said.