REALTORS® Help Municipalities Turn Vacant Properties into Affordable Homes
Many cities and towns across the U.S. have rules in place today that mandate that their teachers, police officers and other personnel performing core functions actually live in the communities they serve. But homeownership within city limits can be out of reach for many of the people in these positions, especially if they’re at entry level.
Some of those very same towns also have homes that were once filled with families but now sit vacant due to back taxes or other payment problems.
Enter CORE, short for the Community Reinvestment Project, now being piloted in Pennsylvania. The program is designed to turn residential properties owned by cities, counties and/or housing and redevelopment authorities into workforce housing for target markets such as first-time homebuyers, teachers, firefighters and police officers. The goal is to help individuals realize the American dream of homeownership, stabilize communities in urban centers and give municipalities a boost in revenue.
“We realized that there were tens of thousands of government- owned properties that are vacant and abandoned that are not bringing in any tax revenue,” says Jennifer Shockley, assistant director of public policy and political affairs at the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®. “The CORE project rehabilitates properties that are sitting vacant in order to provide housing that might not be available otherwise.”
Shockley serves as the initiative’s state-level project manager, garnering and administrating funding from the 2010 National Association of REALTORS®’ Ira Gribin Workforce Housing Project grant. Two pilot projects, in Philadelphia and Reading, already are successfully underway. While the project’s current focus is on residential properties, Shockley says she can foresee a day when it might broaden to include commercial properties as well.
Chuck Liedike is government affairs director for the Reading/ Berks Association of REALTORS®. The organization has worked with the project for more than 18 months and was the first local association in the state to get involved with it. He says agents in the area, about an hour northwest of Philadelphia, had been talking about the need for something like CORE for years.
“We’ve been desiring a program like CORE since before it even was created, primarily because we felt that REALTORS® had an opportunity to help municipalities, in particular the city of Reading, in selling a lot of the vacant properties that they owned,” he says. “these vacant properties — frankly, they’re not helping the community, because there is likely to be more crime in areas with vacant properties, and that in turn decreases property values.
“We’re trying to look at ways to increase the value of properties, not decrease them,” Liedike says of the community of about 89,000 people, according to the 2010 Census. “We wanted to be the first local association to move on this project. It’s something we’ve had our minds on for two and a half years now, so once CORE was created, we hit the ground running.”
Between four and six homes will be selected in the coming months for inclusion in the CORE project, and Liedike estimates that one day the initiative could grow to at least 50. He said he’s looking forward to the day when new owners claim their rehabbed homes.
“This was a way for the city of Reading, a relatively midsized city in Pennsylvania, to take a look at appropriate properties that we feel could potentially be sold to owner-occupants: people who would take pride in those homes, and fix them up if they’re not already in good condition,” he says.
The first and most important phase of the project, Liedike says, has been due diligence — educating agents and community officials on finding and acquiring residential properties for inclusion in the project. He’s had what he calls “countless” meetings with city and county officials to build up support for the program, and is currently at work on passage of a local ordinance designed to establish an active partnership between the REALTORS®’ association and the city of Reading and a streamlined, transparent city-to-homeowner sales process.
this being a mayoral election year, the Reading/Berks Association of REALTORS® decided to build support among all future participants by talking not only to sitting officials but also to those running for office. They’ve also met with the local Habitat for Humanity, architects’ groups, lenders, engineers and home inspectors.
“It’s really important that we reach out and develop the correct contacts, whether we’re talking to local associations in Pennsylvania or throughout the country. We’re going to be helping each other in the future, and it’s important that we’re all on the same page,” Liedike says. “We want to make this as flawless as it can be.”