Mowing to owning
Program would allow homeowners to acquire adjacent properties
WARREN — City council is discussing establishment of a mow-to-own program in an effort to reduce the number of unkempt and blighted properties in city neighborhoods.
Such a program would allow homeowners to take possession of adjacent properties if they agree to maintain them for six months and pay a small fee.
Councilman John Brown, D-at Large, is proposing the legislation as a way to eliminate the city’s need to care for unused and abandoned properties and give responsible property owners a way to expand their yards for gardens or other needs.
Homeowners taking part in such a program would be responsible for property maintenance — cutting grasses, bushes, trees — as well keeping it clean of trash and debris, before the administration will turn over the property.
“There are homeowners across the city that already are taking care of neighboring properties they do not own,” Brown said. “What this legislation will do is to provide an avenue for them to own the properties.
“I am pushing this because I believe it will reduce the number of lots needed to be mowed by city, minimize blight and strengthen neighborhoods,” he said.
Other communities, including Sandusky, Columbus, Akron and Xenia, have similar programs, Brown said. He is basing Warren’s legislation on what he has seen in those and other communities.
HOW IT WORKS
If the legislation is approved, the city will identify the city-owned properties that may be acquired and put them on its website, Brown said. Application for the properties must be done from January through March. The applicants’ care and maintenance will be from April through September.
“Those wanting to buy the properties must live in adjacent homes, be current in all city and county taxes and fees, and must not own any properties that have housing or health code violations,” Brown said. “This is not for landlords looking to expand their rental properties.”
During the period prior to the property being transferred to the homeowner, no structure may be built on it without permission of the city.
He estimates several hundred lots around the city may fit the criteria for the program.
“There is a nonrefundable $190 administration fee,” Brown said. “However, that is the only cost homeowners will have to pay to obtain the property. The fee also will pay for the transfer of the property.”
Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which manages the Trumbull County Land Bank, has been operating its side lot program since 2013, which also allow homeowners to purchase vacant lots next to their properties.
The properties in TNP’s program generally are those that have been acquired by it through foreclosures or tax lien settlements. It is a countywide program. It does not require homeowners to maintain the properties for six months prior to taking possession.
The average cost for the transfer of the properties is $200, but some properties may cost more, depending on lot sizes and other factors, according to TNP’s Executive Director Matt Martin.
Since its inception, TNP’s Side Lot program has transferred approximately 1,500 vacant properties to homeowners. Two-thirds of the properties transferred were located in Warren.
Martin questions whether more than a few properties adjacent to owner-occupied homes would qualify for the program being proposed by Brown.
“Prior to our starting the side lot program, we did an inventory of the properties in Warren,” Martin said. “Many of the properties were transferred to us.”
Councilwomen Helen Rucker, D-at Large, and Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, expressed interest in Brown’s proposal, but want to obtain answers to questions about its need and how it would operate. A council finance committee meeting is expected to be scheduled 3 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers to discuss the legislation.
Rucker said she would like to know how this proposal will differ with the already established land re-utilization legislation that already exists in the city.
“Is it simply adding another layer of bureaucracy?” she said. “Under current law, adjacent homeowners already have first dibs on city-owned vacant properties. They certainly are given a priority.”
Brown, however, said he believes the legislation he is proposing will make the existing program more streamlined and accessible.
“It will cost less because under the current law, the homeowner costs are determined by the front footage, which may be more than $190,” he said.
Saffold said she also would like to learn the differences because the city’s community development office operates to the current program and will lead this program.
“We need some clarification,” Saffold said. “We want Community Development Director Michael Keys to explain how the current program works.”