For the first time in well over a decade — and possibly ever — the city’s redevelopment authority has no blighted residential properties to sell.
In December, the authority unloaded the last two it had available: 316 Beaver St. and 423 E. Strawberry St.
No one at the meeting could remember the inventory reaching zero before. The result is “fantastic,” authority Chairman Doug Byler said.
The last two had been especially tough to sell, remaining on the authority’s rolls month after month while others came and went.
Other houses are moving through the authority’s acquisition process, but it will probably be February before any are ready to be posted for sale, Byler said.
While the revival of interest in city living certainly has helped the authority shed its inventory, its decision to employ a real estate firm to market its properties has been a key factor too, he said.
Until 2015, the authority did nothing beyond posting a list of available properties on the city website. At the time, Byler realized that wasn’t working and pushed for a change.
From then until this spring, the authority contracted with Younger Realty Group.
“They did a great job for us,” Byler said. Working on the authority’s behalf, Younger sold 76 properties for a little over $2 million.
Since April, the authority has sold another nine properties for just under $292,000.
The authority, in existence since 1957, acquires properties through eminent domain after they have been declared blighted by the Property Reinvestment Board and Planning Commission. The process is lengthy, to give existing owners ample chance to remedy the problems and retain possession. When properties are taken, the owner is paid a “just compensation,” determined by appraisal.
The authority board consists of five volunteer members appointed by the mayor. It sells the acquired properties to individuals and companies who sign written agreements to fix them up.
An eyesore can harm a whole block, Byler said. Neighbors sometimes attend authority meetings to urge a blighted property be sold, or fixed up, more quickly.
The authority requires single-family properties it sells to remain owner-occupied in perpetuity, a stipulation required under the terms of federal funding it receives for its operations.
The restriction is supposed to be clearly stated in the paperwork when houses are resold, but there have been cases of buyers treating them as rentals, saying they were not informed. The authority has typically allowed a few months’ grace period for them to come into compliance.
The slowdown in blighted properties coming before the authority is a sign of “healthier housing conditions” in Lancaster, said Chris Delfs, director of community planning and economic development.
That said, the city is aware that “flipping” houses and shifting rental units to owner-occupied status can work against lower-income households, especially when market conditions are tight, as they are now.
For that reason, City Hall is looking at whether the resale program could be reoriented “beyond addressing blight” and toward “a more intentional affordable housing emphasis,” Delfs said.