ALBANY — With the hiring of a little outside help, the city of Albany has halved the time it takes to move cases involving blighted properties to court, but the goal remains the same: to take a bite out of the 100 such properties that have been identified.
A few months ago, the city was considering hiring a part-time employee for the city attorney’s office to work on doing the title searches necessary in order to notify property owners, as required by law.
The work is time-consuming, and the city was not moving the cases along fast enough to make a dent in the backlog of dilapidated buildings that need to come down.
Instead of hiring a new employee, however, City Attorney Nathan Davis asked for permission to enlist two private companies to perform the title searches and the Albany City Commission agreed to the request.
In October, Davis said, his office was able to move 20 cases forward, where previously that number had been 10 or so. The commission authorized $20,000, and two companies have been enlisted to provide the service.
“Our goal now is 20 new cases each month,” he said. “I would say we have at least 100 open files and more coming in every day that need to be processed. We have a backlog of at least 100. We’re really trying to chip away at that backlog.”
Once code enforcement officers identity a home that has structural deficiencies or is unsafe for habitation for other reasons, they pass it along to Davis’ office. Once the title search work is completed, the city attorney’s office prepares the file for presentation in Albany Municipal Court.
In about half of the cases, the owner has not paid taxes on the property, sometimes dating back 15 or 20 years, Davis said.
“Code enforcement will do the initial observations and inspection and, using the tax records, make contact with the owner and see if the owner if willing to do the needed rehabs,” the city attorney said.
When permission is granted to demolish the structure, the city hires a private contractor to do the work and the material is hauled to a landfill for disposal.
Tearing down the structure and acquiring title of the property provides an opportunity for the city to sell it to someone to build on the site.
One major victory was the demolition of a hotel on West Oglethorpe that was an eyesore and attracted a criminal element to the site near downtown Albany.
An area on the 1700 block of Broad Avenue was cleared of a fire-damaged house and several burned-out and abandoned mobile homes in September. Those structures had been eyesores for years and were in a well-traveled street in the city.
While the majority of dilapidated structures are concentrated in certain parts of the city, they can be found all over, Davis said. Wherever a building is located, its removal has an impact citywide.
“No matter where it hits the ground, it’s a benefit to the whole community,” he said. “A lot of times the evidence in Municipal Court will show old food containers or a mattress on the floor” in the abandoned houses.
“It’s a real good service to the public that the city performs when these structures have deteriorated so much they really are a threat to public safety.”