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Blight Reduction Program Incentivizes Community and Avoids Legal Action Towards Property Owners

Baldwin, GA, USA
The Atlas Community Team

Government Champion

County Manager

Cost

Zero upfront cost to local government

Project Status

Operational since 2021

At a Glance

Baldwin County created clear and attainable procedures in their Blight Reduction Program to motivate homeowners to demolish or renovate over 300 dilapidated properties. As a result, the County was able to demolish 164 residential and commercial properties in twenty-seven months.

Problem Addressed

In January 2018, Baldwin County, Georgia had more than 300 recorded properties that were considered unsafe for living. The dilapidated properties were bringing down neighborhood property values, impacting the housing market, attracting illegal activity, vandalism and squatting, and overall negatively affecting community health and safety.

Many of the properties were in mobile home parks where owners were often negligent and maximized profits by failing to upkeep property maintenance. This added to the blight of the already deteriorating neighborhoods.

The County tried to adopt a property maintenance code, but efforts were roadblocked by residents' concerns about government overreach and infringing on private property rights. The County needed a solution to engage residents and incentivize them to take action on the blighted properties.

Baldwin, GA used/is using Blight Reduction Program to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

Due to failed previous efforts, the County Manager realized Baldwin needed a stronger program in order to create effective change. A special task force consisting of the county manager, county attorney, solicitor, code enforcement officer, and magistrate judge developed procedures to communicate with residents about condemned properties and provide incentives for them to act.

The team reviewed the Unsafe Building Abatement Ordinance - a previously passed but never but never enforced mandate - and its severe consequences for noncompliance, and replaced it with the Blight Reduction Program's firm but compassionate procedures.

First, County leaders hired a code enforcement officer who began drafting a series of enforcement letters notifying owners when their property was condemned, gave specific instructions on how to proceed, and outlined the penalty for noncompliance. After being notified, the homeowners had 30 days to begin making progress without any penalty.

The code enforcement officer frequently checked on owners' progress (i.e. taking out demolition permits, removing windows or siding from mobile homes, etc.) to ensure they were meeting compliance within the set timeline.

The county introduced multiple incentives for owners, including lowering demolition permit fees from $100 to $10, allowing owners to pay a single fee if they "clustered" multiple demolitions, and recommending private demolition companies with affordable rates. Community members and churches also donated their time to help neighbors demolish properties.

Baldwin County was able to avoid taking legal action and instead enforce the Blight Reduction Program by creating clear and attainable procedures that motivated homeowners to demolish or renovate their dilapidated properties. As a result, 164 residential and commercial properties were demolished in twenty-seven months. Furthermore, negligent mobile home park owners who refused to pay for improvements have been motivated to sell property to more responsible and civic-minded owners.

The leadership of the county manager, the collaboration of multiple parties, and the clarity and consistency of the measures taken by county leaders, specifically the code enforcement officer, all led to the program's success.

Outcomes

  1. 164 dilapidated residential and commercial properties were demolished in twenty-seven months.
  2. The county lowered demolition permit fees from $100 to $10, allowed a single fee for multiple demolitions, and recommended affordable demolition companies as incentives to property owners.
  3. The Blight Reduction Plan was accomplished within the existing budget since it had no allocation for cleaning up and demolishing abandoned properties.
  4. Negligent property owners who previously refused to pay for improvements have been motivated to sell to more responsible and civic-minded owners.

Lessons Learned

  1. The county realized the importance of collaboration and planning to make programs clear and effective without the need for legal action.
  2. County leaders found success by working with each individual property owner and his/her own circumstances.
  3. This program shows how government leaders can unite people for a common cause and create effective change, increasing the health and safety of the entire community.

Who Should Consider?

Counties between 10,000 - 50,000 population who are looking for blight-reduction solutions in response to dilapidated properties lowering neighborhood property values.

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