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Vacant homes make for bad neighbors

A crushed-in mailbox is taped shut at an abandoned house in the 6400 block of Kiowa NE. Neighbor Robert Keen says he has watched the home deteriorate over years of vacancy. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque resident Robert Keen says he has watched as a vacant house near his on the city’s east side has deteriorated over the past several years.

Though the city has repeatedly boarded up its windows and door, it continues to be broken into.

“My main concern is that it’s not being utilized as a dwelling and it’s also a safe place for people that are up to no good,” Keen said in an interview.

Most recently, Keen said it appears that a storage shed in the backyard had been disassembled and pieces of it had been discarded in the arroyo behind the house located on Kiowa NE, near San Pedro and Candelaria.

The home has been on the Safe City Strike Force’s list of habitual problem properties since 2013, according to city records, and more than $6,000 in liens were paid off recently.

The city estimates that from 1,200 to 1,300 residential properties, such as the one Keen described, are vacant, substandard or both.

To address concerns over such properties, the City Council voted to create a task force at the end of last year to examine how to better tackle the issue.

The task force presented its findings and recommendations at a City Council meeting last month.

A city sign warning that a home is substandard and unsafe to enter is taped to the front. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“Our challenges as a community include the enforcement of minimum health and safety standards and requirements for these properties, the staff and resources needed to monitor the properties through enforcement activities and the negative impact on property values and the blighting influence dilapidated properties have on our neighborhoods,” said task force member Jacqueline Fishman, a principal with Consensus Planning.

Among its recommendations was to examine the formation of a land bank – entities created to acquire and maintain problem properties with the goal of eventually getting them back into the hands of responsible owners.

“I think the goal should be to get them back on the market,” Councilor Diane Gibson said in a recent interview. Gibson sponsored the legislation creating the task force.

Another recommendation was to “explore” legislative options at the state level to extend the statute of limitations on the collection of municipal liens beyond the current four years.

If the city doesn’t collect on the liens within that amount of time – which may have been imposed after the city boarded up windows, cleaned litter out of the yard or trimmed weeds – it doesn’t get paid.

It also recommends amending the city’s Uniform Housing Code to require that a property have a designated local responsible party, something Planning Department Deputy Director Brennon Williams said he supports.

A city sign saying a house is vacant and abandoned appears on a boarded up window on a house on Kiowa Avenue NE in Albuquerque on Thursday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“One of the issues that our code enforcement officers have to deal with … is getting a responsible party to come forward and do what needs to be done,” he said.

Often, the home is owned by an out-of-state bank or lending institution.

While Williams said the number of vacant homes hasn’t necessarily increased, the city is hearing about them more, and the costs of dealing with them have increased.

The city spent more than $450,000 last fiscal year to secure, clean and tear down vacant residences, up from around $315,000 in years past. Each demolition costs between $15,000 and $30,000.

Williams said he attributes the increase to more complaints being received and a rise in costs associated with cleaning, boarding up and demolishing properties.

Councilors said they would like to see the task force continue to meet to conduct additional research and refine its recommendations.

Gibson said they’ll likely amend the resolution to allow for the additional meetings.

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