A year ago our county rejected the IPMC and all its invasive provisions. The section most coveted by the Commission was on property seizure and resale. They had grand plans for a land bank and being able to take ownership of any property they thought would be profitable. It was all wrapped in the name of “blight remediation” and wouldn’t that be swell?
County making cleanup strides (Behind paywall)
The Union-Recorder marked the 1-year anniversary of the IPMC’s defeat with an update on the blight in the area. Much to their dismay, combating blight with existing ordinances has been quite successful! In the 8 months the new code enforcement officer has been on the job he has resolved issues at 37 properties. This serves as irrefutable proof that our existing laws work and that assertions to the contrary used to push the IPMC last year were outright lies.
That success is not enough for our county leaders though. They hired Mr. Tobar to enact the IPMC like he did at the other municipalities he worked for and it must be done here too! Now the approach is to adopt it piece by piece, under different names with various “reasons” as to why we need them.
As “proof” that blight is still about to destroy us all, he offered an article about how it’s an issue in Mobile, AL. We are supposed to assume that the article is written from a neutral viewpoint but as you read you’ll see it clearly is not. That’s ok though because we can dissect it ourselves.
First of all, note that the entire push was funded by Bloomberg, America’s most socialist billionaire. He uses his money to purchase public policies that are in line with his Utopian vision. Here he funded the city’s “Innovation Team” which is a friendly-sounding way to say “find new ways to seize properties.”
There are 3 steps to scare the public into believing that blight is going to kill their city:
Step 1: Make blight a bigger issue than it is
“So they decided to create a “blight zone,” which included every residential property within 150 feet of a blighted home in the count. When they reran the numbers, they discovered that 22% of homes fell within a blight zone.”
Expand the term “blight” to include not just actually-blighted properties but any properties neighboring those properties. Just that act swelled the number of actually-blighted properties from 1,256 to over 12,500. Now it’s a crisis! By changing the rules they went from having 2% blight to 22%. Big government, come save us!
“So they created a blight index. Instead of allowing code enforcers out in the field to score properties based on their personal opinion of whether something fit the definition of blight, they would now check off “yes” or “no.” Each answer had a different weight, invisible to the code enforcers. Once the code enforcement team began using the blight index, the task force meetings became radically more productive. The task force no longer needed to debate whether a property was blighted. Either it was or it wasn’t.”
The illusion of “impartiality” is the best way to fool people into thinking a process is fair. Magicians have been doing it for centuries. Whoever decided those weights also decided which properties were blight by again manipulating the facts to make sure their desired conclusion was reached. Now nobody can contest whether a property is “blighted” because some “issues” are deemed (secretly) more important than others. Sorry – the form says it’s blight. Case closed.
Step 2: Make the process faster. MUCH faster.
“The innovation team realized they needed to change the system itself. The first step was to work with the city council to pass an ordinance allowing the city to change the meaning of a code violation. Instead of issuing fines, the city would now issue stickers informing property owners that they had 20 days to fix their property or the city would do it for them, and then place a lien on their property for the cost of the repairs.”
Now you’re cooking with gas. The owner of a blighted property will probably need time to come up with the money to get it repaired. Otherwise it wouldn’t be blighted now, right? So they give them 20 days or the city fixes it and bills them for it. Of course they can’t pay the city’s bill either, so guess what? They lose the property to the city!
“But in cities where the real estate is cheap, the market will not make blight just go away. In these cities, fixing blighted properties requires government and legal intervention.”
By all means, if land in your area isn’t expensive, the government might as well be able to take it away even easier. They lament that the state’s constitution provides protections to property owners.
“What this means for the city of Mobile is that when a property falls into disrepair, it is very, very, very hard for the city to take ownership of the property.”
Damn the state’s constitution! How dare they make the business of big government so complicated!
“Due to Alabama’s restrictive property laws, a property needed to be tax delinquent before the city could lay claim to it. But in a sick twist of bureaucracy, owners typically paid their taxes, because property taxes are so low that writing a $50 check to the city of Mobile each year felt like a fair price for keeping the family homestead going. They would pay the taxes, but they wouldn’t come back to Mobile and they wouldn’t sell the homes. And this is why no one lived in these homes. They were stuck in a tangle of outdated laws, shifting housing prices, and nostalgia.”
Damn those people for paying their taxes! We need another way to seize their property.
Step 3: Profit
So the “innovation team” lobbied the state government for a Seizure Express Lane.
“Rather than triggering a bunch of fines and notices, the city can now take active measures to bring a property in front of a judge, who can then hand over a property with a clear title to the city. They city can then, in turn, put the property back on the market. The funds from the sale then go to paying any back fines or money spent shoring up the house to ensure it is safe for occupancy. And finally, the city can get new people into formerly blighted houses. Mobile can build homes and neighborhoods instead of high grass and weeds.”
Since when is a city in the business of real estate and “neighborhood building”? Let’s just skip fines and penalties for not being in compliance with a law and just take the property away immediately. Skip due process – we want that property now!
“Passing a bill that removes property rights from residents and places them in the hands of government sounds like an exercise in futility in a state as deep red as Alabama. But the innovation team’s work had at least opened up the possibility of having a conversation about a bill with hints of socialism and a base note of big government.”
Wait till you try it in Georgia, where the citizens are informed and not as easily ambushed by a special-interests group and greedy politicians. “Hints” of socialism? A “base note” of big government? Give it any pretty name you want but that’s exactly what this is.
“While the crafters of the Alabama constitution wrote the document as a giant middle finger to the rest of the nation, to the government, and to any elected official who might ever try to wield power, Mobile’s modern-day residents have discovered that they need government’s help.”
Not here we don’t. Systems like this just perpetuate the “good ol’ boy” mentality where properties are pointed out for “blight remediation” by some real estate investor who can then buy it through a quick handshake deal for his own profit. Why buy out an owner if you can just whisper that it’s blight and whammo – it’s yours in a few weeks! Laws like this are easily “weaponized” against people who cannot afford to fight back. It might not start out that way but greed will eventually win and it’ll be used more and more frequently.
“They see their perpetual potential, and dream of the day when Starbucks comes to downtown.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is their measure of success. Is it yours? Your county commission wants to know. Be sure to tell them on Facebook, but be quick about it because they are known to delete replies and entire posts if things don’t pan out as they hoped.