The issue has created a stir among several neighborhood associations that claim property values are declining because of the 12,000-plus vacant homes and buildings located throughout the city.
As a result, the council on Dec. 3 approved the creation of a registry that will require owners of all vacant homes and commercial buildings to register their property with the city. The new ordinance requires owners of a vacant house to register the property with the city within 30 days after it becomes vacant.
Meanwhile, owners of vacant commercial buildings are required to register that property within 12 months after the structure becomes vacant.
In all cases, an initial registration fee of $285 is required. Annual registration renewals will be $190.
Darla Cheek, a member of the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of Realtors, complained the ordinance was too restrictive, too costly and would cause investors to stop buying rental homes in OKC. She also argued that making the registry a public record could create additional copper thefts at the vacant homes and buildings.
Realtor Pam Barton-Stover told the council the registry won’t eliminate the blighted vacant homes and buildings.
“You still have boarded-up houses, the boarded-up windows, and they’re still damaging the neighborhoods. All you’re doing is creating revenue” and the potential for crime, she said.
However, city officials contend the registry is the beginning of a mission to recoup an estimated $20 million that is lost annually because of long-term vacant homes and commercial buildings.
Vacant homes and buildings create a revenue loss because money typically collected from sales and use taxes, franchise fees from cable TV and utilities, fines and licenses and permits is not available.
Oklahoma City loses about $13.8 million in those categories, along with an additional $6.5 million because police, fire and animal welfare departments respond to calls at those vacant structures, according to a study conducted by GSBS Richman Consulting. Currently, there is no method for the city to recoup those costs.
The study also discovered that vacant homes and buildings create a safety risk and neighborhood decline. Those structures reduce the value of neighboring homes by 12 to 29 percent, depending on proximity, resulting in an estimated $2.7 billion reduction in real estate value citywide.
However, several people spoke in favor of the ordinance, including Georgie Rasco, president of the Neighborhood Alliance.
“We wish industrial properties were included, but we thank you for listening to the needs of residents in Oklahoma City,” she said.
Betty Coats, a member of the Jefferson Park Neighbors Association, applauded the city’s efforts.
“Abandoned properties are a big problem on NW 23rd,” she said. “This is a well-written ordinance that addresses that. We need an ordinance that covers both (residential and commercial) to prevent decay of our properties. Any delay (in approving the ordinance) would benefit only the special interest groups opposed to it.”
David DeWitt, president of the Mesta Park Neighborhood Association, said the ordinance is long overdue and that “poorly maintained structures” are an accelerant to more blighted conditions.
“It hurts the areas and the neighborhoods,” he said.
The required registration and fees will serve as an incentive for property owners to make their houses and buildings more eye-appealing.
Marva Ellard, co-owner of The Sieber Residences, luxury apartments at 1305 N. Hudson Ave., and other properties in Midtown, the Paseo Arts district and Mesta Park, urged the council to approve the proposal.
“There are good property owners, and there are bad property owners,” she said. “I don’t see this as punitive to the good property owners.”
After the registry is complete, city officials plan to work with state lawmakers to draft legislation allowing the municipality to assess and collect fees that pay for police, fire and animal welfare costs when responding to calls at vacant and abandoned buildings.
City officials also want the legal authority to file liens against — and ultimately foreclose on — properties on which owners don’t pay the fees and fines connected to the registry.
The GSBS study also recommended the implementation of a land bank program that allows public entities to acquire land and invest in property that hasn’t been redeveloped on its own. A land bank typically acquires property from tax foreclosure rolls and then sells or transfers the title to city agencies, community development corporations or private developers with the intent of improving neighborhoods.