There is a plague that is sweeping across my hometown. It isn't something that is unique to Niles, but it affects everyone in some way or another. The symptoms are easy to notice. Buildings stand empty all along U.S. Route 422, up Robins Avenue and throughout the downtown area. "For Rent" signs cover the area, but none ever seem to be filled. If they are, it isn't for long. Why is this happening? That's pretty simple to explain, actually.
The problem lies in something most people don't know about. The IRS, everyone's least favorite government organization, offers tax breaks to property owners. These tax breaks are for buildings that are available for rent but remain unrented. This allows the property owners to demand high rates for empty properties. The price asked is out of balance with the market, meaning that it is kept higher than renters are willing or able to pay for similar properties. This allows the owners to appear as if they are trying to rent the property (something that is required for the tax break) without actually having to rent the properties. If the property is rented, it is usually not for long. This is because the cost of the space is so high that a starting business can not keep up. This only serves to prove that the owners are "actively trying to rent" the property, meaning they will continue to receive their tax credits.
While these buildings stay empty, they are often allowed to deteriorate until they are far out of code, and even unsafe. Building inspectors generally do not make inspections of these places until a new renter is found.
Many landlords require prospective new renters to make these repairs and improvements themselves, repairs that must be completed before moving in. This adds considerable expense to new business owners, expenses that often can not be met.
So, what does this mean to the average community member? Why should they care? When these buildings are rented, new businesses can open. New business means more than just a new place to shop. Small business owners provide new jobs, new opportunities and new products. Small business owners are friends and family.
They are the heart of the local economy. When you allow a stranglehold to be placed on a small business, you are helping to destroy the future of your town.
What can people do about it? Go to city council. Support the local businesses. Write to government representatives.
If people want their city to survive, the tax breaks and the bad landlords need to be stopped. It's time to stand up and defend this town.