City of Cedartown Code Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector Joseph Martin, left, looks over a property map with recently hired Code Enforcement Officer Don Matthews.
The city of Cedartown is making notable advancements in its effort to clean up neighborhoods marred by blight, property that is structurally unsafe or displays unsanitary conditions. The city demolished two structures at the end of 2015 and is starting 2016 off with affordable housing projects.
The two demolitions can be deemed as successful in more than one way, said city of Cedartown Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Joseph Martin. “Not only did it rid neighborhoods of unsafe and dilapidated structures, but it was done at no cost to taxpayers.”
The city received a court order on one of the properties and was legally authorized to tear the property down. However, demolitions can run upwards of $7,000; much more if asbestos is involved. Demolition of blight is an expense that the city would rather not incur, Martin said.
According to Martin, blight is not something that can be eradicated overnight. “There are basically two ways to eliminate a blighted property: either tear it down or go through approved remediation or redevelopment. Some structures cannot be rehabbed and must be demolished. Others can be saved, and that’s what we like to happen,” he said.
Either option is costly and surrounded by legalities. Martin explained that once a property is classified as blight, there is a lengthy legal process the city must follow: first, notify the property owner in writing and any lenders or persons with a vested interest in the property; next, provide those notified an ample amount of time to respond; and once they respond, the city has to take them to court where the judge will give the owner or vested party time to remedy the situation.
“But most times, these folks don’t have the money to bring it up to code or even to have it torn down,” he said.
That’s when blighted properties become an expensive weight on the city and on residents. “In those cases, the judge can grant us the right to take care of the property. That puts a huge burden on the city and taxpayers,” Martin said. “The city wants to explore every option before we obtain court orders to bring the property into compliance. That’s why we consider those recent demolitions as a success. The blight isn’t there anymore and we didn’t need to use tax payer dollars to pay to clean it up.”
The two demolitions follow on the heels of several recent initiatives by the city to attack blight aggressively, ensuring not only the safety of residents, but also improving their quality of life. In the summer of 2015, Cedartown hired an additional code enforcement officer to tackle minor code violations like grass overgrowth and trash on property, allowing the city’s other code enforcement officer to dedicate more time to focus on identifying and eradicating blight.
In August 2014, the Cedartown City Commission adopted an ad valorem tax increase ordinance on blighted properties to assist in spreading the city’s push to identify and eradicate blight. The ordinance allows the city to leverage a tax seven times greater than the millage rate applied to the property once the property is determined to be blighted. Revenues collected from the increased rate of ad valorem tax is used only for community redevelopment purposes, including defraying the cost to close, repair or demolish unfit building and structures. To date, the city has not levied a seven times tax on any blighted property.
On the flip side of increased taxation, owners of blighted property can see a decrease in taxes if the correct steps are taken to remove the source of blight quickly. When a property has been officially removed from a “blighted” classification through approved remediation, the property then becomes eligible for a decrease in the rate of city ad valorem tax by applying a factor of 0.5 to the city millage rate assigned to the property.
Housing Goal: Affordable and Attractive
A participant of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing (GICH) program, Cedartown has scheduled several affordable and attractive community housing projects for this year. These projects aim to “up the ante” in the bigger picture of fighting blight and irresponsible landlords with the hopes that sub-standard housing and rental properties will become less prominent with more affordable, quality housing options available.
First up, a $20 million rehabilitation project from the Cedartown Housing Authority (CHA). This project will begin this year and includes the conversion of all CHA public housing units to Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance properties. It includes acquisition, rehabilitation and equipping of a 100-unit apartment project and 140 housing units in five Cedartown locations.
The recently finalized approval of Vinings at Oxford Project, spearheaded by Vantage Development, LLC, is Cedartown’s second project. This project aims to offer 62 townhomes comprised of 9 one-bedroom units, 32 two-bedroom units and 21 three-bedroom units on about 20 acres of property inside the city limits. This development will provide decent, safe and well-located affordable housing for low to moderate income families in the Cedartown area. There will also be units designed for mobility and sensory impaired individuals.