City Councilman John Staford has a four-pronged plan to deal with vacant homes. One piece of that is to foreclose on homes of people who have not paid property taxes. Staford says there are 500 delinquent homes where property taxes or fines have not been paid.
Of that group of 70 properties, Staford said 15-20 owners will actually pay their taxes to avoid going through a foreclosure. For the other 50-55 the attorney’s office will research to find the owners of the home. Sometimes, that process can be difficult because the original owner has died and their heir has to be located.
Once the owner or heir is found, a foreclosure notice can be sent and the home can go to auction.
Staford said he wants to go beyond the required newspaper advertisement and make investors or potential private buyers aware of the auction through a website developed by the city.
Staford said eventually, he would like to give private buyers a chance to bid for a foreclosed home before investors in an attempt to increase number of owner-occupied homes in Statesville. However, he’s focused on just increasing the number of foreclosures right now.
If a home can be foreclosed and auctioned, it avoids demolition funded by the city. Staford said demolitions can cost between $8-15,000.
“The rule for demolition is that if the cost of the repairs of the house is 50% of the value of the house, it can be moved to condemnation,” Staford said.
Two homes recently came before council to be condemned and demolished, but Staford pushed to find a willing buyer.
A home on Sharpe Street managed to get three bids. Another home on Falls Street got one.
Even if the city had to forgive some of the taxes owed on the property, selling it to someone who would renovate and maintain the home was preferable to tearing it down. Empty lots with taxes owed on the property are too expensive to be worth the cost, he said.
Staford said those homes were in great disrepair and would be harder to get a buyer for than others in Statesville.
“Those were not the projects I wanted to introduce into this program first, but they were going to get demolished if I didn’t,” Staford said. “There are hundreds of houses in this city right now that we will be 100% made whole on when we foreclose on them. The attorneys will be paid complete. The taxes will be paid completely. The city and county. The nuisance abatement fees will be paid in full, and there will probably be still left some money to go back to the heirs because they’re that good of a house, but if you want to go buy that house, you can’t.”
Owners of the properties can be hard to find or simply unwilling to sell the home. Staford said because many of these owners don’t live in the area, they don’t care about the property. While a potential buyer can’t force the owner to sell, the city can.