Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Tax Forfeited Property Sign...

Photo and blog post by John Hoff

Shortly after most of the snow melted (not counting the freak snowfall of April 20) red and white signs began appearing on random vacant lots all over North Minneapolis, as well as at least one boarded house that I've observed on Lyndale Ave. N.

The signs advertise that the plots of land in question are tax-forfeited and available for sale from Hennepin County. Though this information is available online, the additional action of placing a sign on the lot is a smart way to advertise. And there are certainly an abundance of these lots available.

With no new construction in the cards for at least a couple years--not counting economic development efforts and non-profit entities like Habitat for Humanity--one might question who, exactly, would snap up these lots?

I'd like to see community gardeners buy the lots and...

...keep them vacant more or less forever. Adjacent landowners are the most likely to want to acquire the properties, but here's the problem: many if not most of the adjacent properties are rentals. The landlords are not interested in obtaining the nearby tax-forfeited properties. Why? So their tenants can have super large yards?

Of the adjacent property owners who actually live in their own houses, few of them have money.

I might suggest some kind of program that would provide low-interest loans, so neighboring home owners could acquire the vacant lots. My first thought, however, is that I doubt the city would support such a program. The city wants HOUSING DENSITY. The city wants homes it can tax, not vacant lots.

But consider: DENSITY is fine, when the homes are prosperous and law abiding. But in neighborhoods where crime and poverty are concentrated, a little less density may be a good thing. The city is already taking steps that reduce density by acquiring run down homes and demolishing them. In many instances, new construction on the vacant lots is happening no time soon.

The solution, to me, seems obvious: the city of Minneapolis should make it easy for neighboring home owners to buy the tax forfeited vacant lots from the county. Create programs that would provide low-interest and/or forgivable loans so neighboring home owners can acquire the vacant lots. At the very least, make it easy for neighboring home owners to temporarily use the vacant lots for gardening.

Maybe none of this will happen. But I'll say this: putting a sign on the properties is a good idea. It is a constant visual reminder that the lot is for sale. People--especially neighboring home owners--will constantly see the sign.

And maybe, from constantly seeing the sign, they will begin to dream of expanding their yard, or planting a massive garden, or building an addition to their home.


dyna said...

John, my house and lot will probably be joining the list- no way can I afford to pay $800 a year in taxes on a property that's not worth $10,000. But I'll be keeping the other two lots, as even though one has a garage on it the taxes are reasonable.

Anonymous said...

The city can't seem to differentiate between between a slumlord who scrambles up a house to add several more substandard subsidized rentals and a multimillion dollar condo developer who donates heavily to campaign funding.

How do you expect them to grasp the concept of urban planning and it's relationship with healthy self-sustaining neighborhoods?

Anonymous said...

Well cared for gardens are great - 3 months a year. I don't trust that a free garden is going to be maintained.

But the reality is that the rest of the time they become unsightly overgrown weed patches that collect litter and have unmaintained sidewalks.

The city needs to sod them over and use some of the economic recovery funding they were given to actually hire local residents to maintain them or sell them at low cost to an adjacent landowner with a proven track record.

JamesNeighbor said...

John, we have gone to the City to get information on buying the empty lot next to ours, specifically for putting in a garden and open space to share with a few neighbors. The city's reply - that space needs to have a house on it. No matter that there are a half dozen empty lots on my block, with a brand new teardown in just the past few weeks.

The city says, that if it can't sell to a builder, they may pass the property on to Hennepin County, which would be more amenable to allowing a garden on the lot. In the mean time, Mpls has to come out every week or so and pay for maintainance of an empty lot.

Anonymous said...

James it sounds like you are sitting next to a lot theat was torn down by federal funds. They require a new home to be built there when thoses types of funds are used.