ANC6B Task Force Takes on Vacant Properties

Vacant House at 735 12th Street, SE Has Troubled Neighbors for Years

ANC6B Task Force Takes on Vacant Properties

by Larry Janezich

Thursday night, Commissioner Brian Pate’s Outreach and Constituent Services Task Force met in order to continue exploring ways to deal with the ongoing problem of vacant and blighted properties.

On hand were several residents living in close proximity the property pictured above at 735 12th Street, SE; Kim Graziani of the Center for Community Progress; and Reuben Pemberton, program manager, Vacant Building Enforcement, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Residences within 500 feet of a vacant house lose between 2 and 10 percent in value depending on existing conditions, according to Kim Graziani.  By that measure, with up to 2700 vacant or blighted properties in DC, a significant number of DC residents are affected.

Residents often don’t realize that the city does not automatically monitor and deal with vacant buildings.  Regardless of how long a property has been vacant, it doesn’t start being a vacant property until it comes to the city’s attention in the form or a complaint. 

Once a property is identified, Pemberton can impose a tax on it to motivate the owner to fix or sell the property.  The tax is $5 per $100 of the assessed value for vacant houses and $10 per $100 of the assessed value for blighted houses – an annual tax of $20,000 on a $200,000 property in the latter case.

Enforcement can be a problem, according to Pemberton.  Owners can apply for an exemption from the higher tax for a variety of reasons, including economic hardship and good faith efforts to sell or renovate the property.  However, there is a limit on the exemption:  three years for a single owner and five years for a property.  After that, the city could move to condemn and demolish the property, but that is a long process and expensive for the taxpayer.  Pemberton says the purpose of his office is to get that property functional and to turn abandoned properties into assets.  “It’s not our business to tear down properties, we want to save them,” he said.  But making vacant and blighted properties viable depends on many factors: locating the owner, economic realities (location of the property), and availability of a purchaser.

Pemberton stresses that the Mayor is aware of the problem and wants to do something and   Pemberton has taken the initiative, cobbling together a loose task force involving his office along with representatives of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, the Office of Tax and Revenue, and the Department of Housing and Community Development to deal with the worst vacant or blighted houses.

Graziani’s organization – the Center for Community Progress – is a national organization that addresses the issue of vacant properties.  The organization provides advocacy, technical assistance and organizational development services to governments and activists to help implement strategies to prevent and reuse vacant properties.  Graziani lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and offered to continue the dialogue both with the ANC Task Force and Pemberton.  For more information:  At the level of city council, Pemberton cited Councilmember Jack Evans and Muriel bowser as being particularly active on the issue of vacant properties.

To report a vacant or blighted building, email, or call 202 442 4332.

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