NB Politicus

Council Committee To Hear Move To Weaken Anti-Blight Ordinance, Proposal To Increase Senior Tax Relief

Posted in blight, city government by nbpoliticus on July 2, 2014
CITY HALL WATCH

CITY HALL WATCH

By John McNamara

Housing and taxes are usually topics as hot as this week’s weather and both are on the agenda of the Common Council’s Committee on Administration, Finance and  Law at 7 p.m. today at a City Hall public hearing and meeting.

Four Republican aldermen have proposed changes to the city’s anti-blight ordinance that would reduce fines and penalties that can be imposed on absentee landlords for neglecting or walking away from multi-unit housing.  Revisions would also amend some definitions of what constitutes “blighting conditions” but leaves most of them intact.

At issue is how tough the city will be on absentee owners responsible for blight.  The current ordinance states that blighted properties will be subject a fine of $250 per blighted condition per day after a 30-day grace period. The fine will double if not paid within 10 days of issuance. The proposal advanced by Ald. Willie Pabon, Don Naples, Jamie Giantonio and Lou Salvio would lower the penalties:

When the owner of the property has been found in violation of this article, a blight enforcement official shall issue a ticket for such violation, which ticket shall provide for a fine of ninety dollars ($90.00) per violation payable to the City of New Britain. If any such fine is not paid within fifteen (15) days, a penalty in an amount equal to three (3) times the fine shall immediately become due and payable in addition to the original fine.

No matter how you do the math the $90 fine even when it triples weakens anti-blight enforcement and takes  an important economic tool away from the city to crack down on blight.. Fair housing advocates sends the wrong signal to the bad actors in the city’s rental housing market and  worry that  the Stewart Administration is pushing the change as a sop to out of town landlords for their financial and campaign support in the 2013 election.

Expanding Senior Property Tax Credits

On property taxes, Common Council President Michael Trueworthy is asking the Council Committee chaired by Ald. David DeFronzo to consider expanding senior property tax credits beyond the levels now allowed by the state-mandated program.  The Council extended income levels for senior and disabled residents several years ago without increasing costs in the overall municipal budget.  That legislation, however, was vetoed by the former Stewart administration.

The senior tax relief measure may take on more significance with the adoption of the municipal budget that raised the property tax rate by 11% this year, cut services and raised fees to deal with a structural budget deficit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Commission Update: A Phony Price Tag For Access To Code Violators

Posted in blight, city politics and government by nbpoliticus on July 13, 2008

Once upon a time municipal government in New Britain had a Building Commission – a five-member body that oversaw code enforcement, permits and reviewed variance requests. Every month appointed citizens reviewed inspections, monitored activities and made requests of inspectors if they knew of any code problems.

For safe housing advocates the building enforcement has been made worse by the elimination of a certificate of occupancy law that went out before the old commission was eliminated.

Charter change did away with the Building Commission six years ago and City Councils ever since have failed to adopt a building board to deal with persistent blight, abandonment and code issues. While the current Charter did eliminate many boards and commissions it gave the Mayor and Council power to establish them by ordinance instead of the lengthy referendum process at any time.

At long last the City Council is set to reinstitute the commission at its July meeting in the aftermath of laudable press coverage by the New Britain Herald’s Rick Guinness on code problems, squatters and evictions at properties owned by out-of-town landlords. Guinness and the Herald, despite their limits at the corporate owned hometown daily, are turning in some of the best local journalism in years on the housing issue. More on that in a subsequent post.

Although Mayor Stewart has been against reinstituting the commission, he should work with the Council and, as the appointing authority, give appointees an opportunity to improve code enforcement and housing policy that has been neglected for a number of years. The reality is a new Building Commission will be as effective as the Mayor wants it to be.

The need for more oversight of the Building Department and more accountability in this area of services was evident at the July 9th Council meeting.

Councillors were told that it will take up to $40,000 just to put reports on building-code violations together from the building and health departments and the Fire Marshall’s office. According to the Herald story, “finding out what actions have been taken against building-code violators will cost the city $40,000” in administrative and overtime costs. To anyone outside the City Hall bureaucracy, the figure sounds preposterous. It raises the issue of whether accurate logs and records are being kept on a day to day basis at these enforcement departments. The Council appropriately rejected the $40,000 to get the information, but you have to wonder whether they were snookered into believing that it would or should take that much to get data that should be available at their next Council meeting. “Along with giving the $40,000 estimate, the city plan, fire, health and licenses, permits and inspections departments said they will begin keeping better track, electronically, of violation information,” the Herald reported. That admission alone illustrates the need for more citizen oversight over a department that, after the Police Department, fields the highest number of complaints and disputes from residents.

Put simply, a dubious price tag to get some basic data that should already be available has been thrown in the way of improving enforcement and making a Building Commission an effective tool to reduce blight.

Blight At East And Kelsey: Sad End For Former Parochial High School Building

Posted in blight, community development by nbpoliticus on May 13, 2007


Alumni and friends of New Britain’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school will gather for a reunion on May 19th at New Britain Stadium. The pre-game picnic is a fundraiser for a Noah’s Ark of Hope, a Meriden playground named for a child of an Aquinas alumna.

Participants will bring many good memories of the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the parochial school at East and Kelsey streets.

But memories are all that is left now because the century-old school house attached to an addition and gymnasium built during the school’s 1960s heydays is an eyesore. Over the last year the building’s deterioration has accelerated. Its hulking presence hurts property values and the neighorhood’s quality of life.

A Herald story by Francine Maglione last January described just how bad things have gotten at the former parochial high school site:

The St. Thomas Aquinas school, which closed in the 1990s, remains abandoned and somewhat open for vagrants or even school children to enter and wander around. Though many of the doors are boarded up, a few of them are open and easily accessible. Inside the building, broken glass and garbage litters the floor, and books and furniture are scattered about. Graffiti covers the walls outside as well as walls and chalkboards inside the classrooms. Next to the school in the former nun’s quarters, boxes of old financial records still sit in the hallways and canceled checks lay all over the floor. The school building is currently for sale and remains boarded up.

The situation finally prompted the city Building Department to condemn the property, posting signs that the structure is a public safety hazard. Aquinas’deterioration is a main topic of concern for members of the East Side NRZ which regularly meets with city officials about blight and other issues.

For a time following the close of the parochial school there was talk the facility could have been turned over to the public schools — giving the city an adaptable place to add classrooms for once and future needs. It would have been appropriate for the Archdiocese of Hartford to turn the parcel back to the city, having obtained it for $1 when the municipality could afford to give that kind of space away. Instead, the building housed a now defunct charter school and became a source of income for the church. Eventually the Aquinas property was sold off to an absentee realty interest. The result — so common in urban properties acquired for speculation — has been a quick decline into blight for the once proud secondary school whose graduates include city leaders such as State Senator Don DeFronzo and State Rep. John Geragosian.

The Aquinas property demonstrates the limits city government faces in dealing with abandoned, absentee-owned buildings. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has guaranteed funds to New Britain for a generation now. CDBG, which emerged in the 1970s, is supposed to address blight issues with funds for the acquisition of property and the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings. Through the years federal appropriations have precipitously declined, however. According to an estimate by the Northeast-Midwest Coalition federal money for CDBG dropped 51% from 1981 to 2006. Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today — less than $2 million. When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well.

Despite the absence of federal dollars for interventions and no apparent bidders to purchase the property from out of state owners, the city needs to adopt a more aggressive approach to revitalize the Aquinas parcel. It’s too large a piece of property and too important a space on the East Side to ignore on the list of abandoned buildings in New Britain.

What should be done?

Talks should open or re-open with the owner on marketing and finding a re-use of the property.

The feasibility of tearing down the facility should be explored. Its age and deterioration would seem to make rehabilitation and costs such as asbestos removal prohibitive at this juncture. An open parcel would accelerate the process of restoration and identifying a good use of the land.

The city on its own should contact developers interested in moderate income housing or similar appropriate uses (There have been no shortage of them inquiring about the Pinnacle Heights public housing site).

Officials should pursue any opportunities for competitive community development grant funding, including a University partnership program from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that could involve Central CT State University’s construction studies programs.

(Photo courtesy of East Side Community Action)

Blight At East And Kelsey: Sad End For Former Parochial High School Building

Posted in blight, community development by nbpoliticus on May 13, 2007


Alumni and friends of New Britain’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school will gather for a reunion on May 19th at New Britain Stadium. The pre-game picnic is a fundraiser for a Noah’s Ark of Hope, a Meriden playground named for a child of an Aquinas alumna.

Participants will bring many good memories of the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the parochial school at East and Kelsey streets.

But memories are all that is left now because the century-old school house attached to an addition and gymnasium built during the school’s 1960s heydays is an eyesore. Over the last year the building’s deterioration has accelerated. Its hulking presence hurts property values and the neighorhood’s quality of life.

A Herald story by Francine Maglione last January described just how bad things have gotten at the former parochial high school site:

The St. Thomas Aquinas school, which closed in the 1990s, remains abandoned and somewhat open for vagrants or even school children to enter and wander around. Though many of the doors are boarded up, a few of them are open and easily accessible. Inside the building, broken glass and garbage litters the floor, and books and furniture are scattered about. Graffiti covers the walls outside as well as walls and chalkboards inside the classrooms. Next to the school in the former nun’s quarters, boxes of old financial records still sit in the hallways and canceled checks lay all over the floor. The school building is currently for sale and remains boarded up.

The situation finally prompted the city Building Department to condemn the property, posting signs that the structure is a public safety hazard. Aquinas’deterioration is a main topic of concern for members of the East Side NRZ which regularly meets with city officials about blight and other issues.

For a time following the close of the parochial school there was talk the facility could have been turned over to the public schools — giving the city an adaptable place to add classrooms for once and future needs. It would have been appropriate for the Archdiocese of Hartford to turn the parcel back to the city, having obtained it for $1 when the municipality could afford to give that kind of space away. Instead, the building housed a now defunct charter school and became a source of income for the church. Eventually the Aquinas property was sold off to an absentee realty interest. The result — so common in urban properties acquired for speculation — has been a quick decline into blight for the once proud secondary school whose graduates include city leaders such as State Senator Don DeFronzo and State Rep. John Geragosian.

The Aquinas property demonstrates the limits city government faces in dealing with abandoned, absentee-owned buildings. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has guaranteed funds to New Britain for a generation now. CDBG, which emerged in the 1970s, is supposed to address blight issues with funds for the acquisition of property and the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings. Through the years federal appropriations have precipitously declined, however. According to an estimate by the Northeast-Midwest Coalition federal money for CDBG dropped 51% from 1981 to 2006. Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today — less than $2 million. When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well.

Despite the absence of federal dollars for interventions and no apparent bidders to purchase the property from out of state owners, the city needs to adopt a more aggressive approach to revitalize the Aquinas parcel. It’s too large a piece of property and too important a space on the East Side to ignore on the list of abandoned buildings in New Britain.

What should be done?

Talks should open or re-open with the owner on marketing and finding a re-use of the property.

The feasibility of tearing down the facility should be explored. Its age and deterioration would seem to make rehabilitation and costs such as asbestos removal prohibitive at this juncture. An open parcel would accelerate the process of restoration and identifying a good use of the land.

The city on its own should contact developers interested in moderate income housing or similar appropriate uses (There have been no shortage of them inquiring about the Pinnacle Heights public housing site).

Officials should pursue any opportunities for competitive community development grant funding, including a University partnership program from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that could involve Central CT State University’s construction studies programs.

(Photo courtesy of East Side Community Action)