Meyer Administration initiative reduces number of vacant properties by 30%, collects over $1 million in delinquent taxes and fees
New Castle, DE – County Executive Matt Meyer announced today that New Castle County’s Vacant Spaces to Livable Places initiative has reduced the number of vacant properties by 30 percent and over the past year has collected more than $1 million in delinquent taxes and fees owed by owners of vacant and abandoned properties. These achievements are highlighted in the 2018 Vacant Spaces to Livable Places Annual Report, available online at https://newcastlede.gov/1762/Vacant-Spaces.
“Vacant and abandoned properties harm communities, drive down property values and impose financial costs on local government,” County Executive Meyer said. "That's why early in my administration we launched a comprehensive strategy to turn these eyesores into occupied homes that strengthen communities and drive higher quality of life. I’m proud that this effort has delivered results by moving 400 vacant spaces toward livable places and collected more than $1 million for taxpayers. Thanks to new and effective collaboration across county government, determined enforcement action and strong support from state and county partners we will continue to aggressively build on this progress.”
Over the past decade the number of vacant and abandoned properties across the county steadily increased, surpassing 1,300 properties by January 2017 that were being monitored or maintained by county government. These properties attract crime, become dumping grounds for waste and are targets for arson. They also drive costs for county taxpayers, diverting resources as local government is forced to pay for maintenance, grass mowing and waste removal. Additionally, vacant and abandoned properties have been shown to depress neighborhood property values and they reduce tax revenue needed for critical public services.
“Our residents are concerned about the impact of vacant and abandoned housing on their neighborhoods and we as elected officials share that concern,” said County Councilman Penrose Hollins, Co-Chair of County Council’s Community Services Committee and champion of legislation to strengthen vacant housing efforts. “I applaud County Executive Meyer and his team for developing our first-ever comprehensive plan to tackle vacant housing and I’m encouraged by the success they’ve experienced in partnership with local, county and state officials.
“There is no question that vacant housing contributes to both crime and decreases in property values,” said County Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Co-Chair of County Council’s Community Services Committee and champion of legislation to strengthen vacant housing efforts. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Vacant Housing Working Group, New Castle County has made great strides in combating neighborhood blight and I strongly support the continuation of its successful work.”
In early 2017, County Executive Meyer launched the County’s Vacant Spaces to Livable Places initiative, guided by the most comprehensive strategy in county history to tackle this pressing challenge. The strategy consisted of four major components:
- Directing a multi-disciplinary Vacant Housing Working Group to work collaboratively across county government to reduce vacant, abandoned and blighted properties.
- Amending county law -- with the strong support of County Council -- to establish new authority to recover the County’s costs for monitoring and maintaining vacant properties and to strengthen the county’s vacant property registry by imposing additional registration requirements and increasing financial costs for owners of vacant and blighted properties.
- Securing changes to state law -- with broad bipartisan support -- to give local governments authority to recoup abatement expenses as tax liens on vacant properties and allow county government to prequalify bidders at Sheriffs Sale in order to ensure that bidders are not themselves delinquent in local taxes and fees or property code violations.
- Issuing an Executive Order that empowers county departments to initiate sheriff sales of vacant and blighted properties and sets criteria for prioritizing those properties.
By 2018, with additional county and state laws in hand, the county formalized a process to regularly review the county's stock of vacant and abandoned housing and began moving the most egregious cases -- those with the highest delinquent taxes and sewer and code enforcement fees and those driving public safety calls for service -- towards Sheriff’s Sale. This effort produced dramatic results for county residents.
Highlights of successes
- Reduced the number of vacant properties by 30% from 1,350 when the program was launched in April, 2017 to 948 in January, 2019, the first time in years the number of vacant properties has dropped below 1,000.
- Collected $1 million for county/school taxes and fees through aggressive enforcement by targeting the properties with the largest financial delinquencies and/or community impact (i.e. calls for public safety services). Each month, vacant housing task force members review vacant properties and prioritize enforcement action. That initially consists of written notice giving property owners 10 days to settle their obligations or face Sheriff’s Sale. Those letters triggered payment of nearly $500,000 in back taxes and fees and numerous cases where rehabilitation work was initiated and/or the properties were listed for sale. An additional $500,000 was collected when vacant and abandoned homes were sold through Sheriff’s Sale to new responsible owners. The $1 million collected included 47% in delinquent county code and sewer fees, 30% in delinquent school taxes and 23% in delinquent county property taxes.
- Collaboration has worked effectively to improve communities as vacant homes from all corners of New Castle County are moving toward responsible ownership and homes have been improved for sale or rent to local families. That collaboration has leveraged time and resources across county government, from code enforcement, public safety and housing officials to finance and legal staff.
Click HERE to read a one page summary of the report online.
Click HERE to read the full report online.
Contact: Jason Miller, Director of Communications, 302-545-1462