The Facts on Blight
Over the past few weeks, blight and code enforcement have been hot topics in Bristol. Suggestions have been made that this current City Council has not done “enough” to curtail blight and enforce codes. However, the facts of the City’s blight reduction and code enforcement efforts over the past six years, and particularly the last two, actually make an argument much to the contrary.
In 2008, the City established the Code Enforcement Committee, consistent of representation from the Chief Building Official, Director of Bristol/ Burlington Health District, Chief of Police or his designee, Zoning Enforcement Officer, Fire Marshal, Director of Public Works or their designees and chaired by a member of the City Council, currently Mayor Ward. This group meets monthly to coordinate the City's anti-blight and code enforcement measures. Since the creation of the Code Enforcement Committee, the number of code complaints received has totaled 7891, or approximately 1500 per year. The two years prior to the creation of this committee, the City had received just 129 complaints total.
The City has resolved 96% of the complaints received since 2008, and has billed violators a total of $1.34 million dollars, with approximately $1.1 million already collected. Seven arrests were made over this span, and since 2012, the number of abatement orders issued has increased by 40 percent.
In 2010 the City was able to further streamline and consolidate the process by assigning the duties of the former Code Enforcement Officer to a Lieutenant. This simple, yet effective consolidation measure was implemented after the Building Department and Police Department established the lack of a necessity for a full-time, Code Enforcement Officer. By merging the duties of the Code Enforcement Officer with the Lieutenant’s responsibilities, the City was able to cut costs while still performing the essential functions of the position.
But the City hasn’t just been cracking down on blight and enforcing housing codes, we have been approaching it and other quality of life issues through a multi-faceted approach. This approach has combined enforcement with incentives for private investment into these blighted properties.
In 2008, the City implemented a “Tax Assessment Freeze Program”. This program authorizes the Tax Assessor to freeze assessments of rehabilitated properties. The goal of the program is to help achieve the rehabilitation of blighted property by freezing the assessment of the property to a point established prior to rehabilitation. Once a certificate of occupancy is issued, the “freeze” lasts for a duration of five years.
However, if the property becomes the object of an enforcement action by any member of the Code Enforcement Committee during this time period, the adjusted assessment can be revoked by the City Assessor. Furthermore, if a property owner or the property owner’s spouse, business partner, or other entity associated with the property owner caused the blighted condition or violation of codes, they are exempt from participating in the program.
Since the creation of the program, 16 properties have participated. However, eight of the participating properties have occurred since 2012, with an additional eight applications currently pending. In other words, participation in the program has increased by 100% since 2012.
Between the 16 properties who have taken part in, and applied for the program since 2012, there has been over $1.1 million in private investment. The resulting impact has been a future increase in taxable assets, as well as a significant increase in property values at these locations, and for their surrounding neighbors. Pre-rehabilitation property values for these properties have averaged approximately $97,000. Post-rehabilitation property values have averaged approximately $171,000, an increase of about $74,000 on an average investment of about $69,000.
Another successful program has been the Bristol Development Authority’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Home Rehabilitation program. Since 2008, the CDBG Home Rehabilitation Program has provided nearly $1.3 million in grants for renovations. The Home Rehabilitation Program allows qualifying homeowners the ability to receive a percentage of the renovation costs in the form of a grant. These funds come by way of the Federal government’s CDBG program. 532 units have been renovated utilizing CDBG funds since 2008.
The Council is continuing to work with City departments to create a comprehensive package and a marketing plan of all the incentives currently offered to private investors for the rehabilitation of blighted properties and code compliance measures. In addition, we have been working to create and implement a multi-family homebuyers program that will help promote more private homeownership, and ultimately, reduce the number of absentee landlords in the City. In the West End alone, over 40 percent of homes are owned by a landlord who does not live in Bristol.
The Mayor and the rest of the current City Council understand the importance of cleaning up the City, and have pushed for an even greater focus on blight and code enforcement over the past two years. Understanding the tough economic conditions facing the City, this administration has had to do more with less in order to avoid saddling our taxpayers with even greater expenses. Between the incentives offered to spur private investment, as well as the responsible appropriation of surplus funds when possible, this administration has tackled the issue with a sustainable approach that is both effective, and cost efficient.
Going forward, we will continue the progress gained with regard to these efforts. Blight and code enforcement will always be an on-going battle, but we are fully committed to continuing the positive momentum. With a little patience, increased private investment, continued responsible and sustainable City funding, and the continued community efforts exhibited by our wonderful neighborhood associations, we know this is a battle the city of Bristol will win.
The Bristol City Council
-Mayor Arthur J. Ward
-City Councilor Eric Carlson
-City Councilor Ken Cockayne
-City Councilor Derek Czenczelewski
-City Councilor Henri Martin
-City Councilor David Mills
-City Councilor Mayra Sampson