A Plan for Addressing Vacant / Abandoned Properties in Trenton

The fundamental reason Trenton has abandoned / vacant properties in Trenton is that it costs more to rehab a property than it would be worth once completed.   We can help developers and potential homeowners by lowering their financial cost, establishing a more fluid market for vacant / abandoned properties and creating a marketing message that includes more people who might be interested in living in Trenton.

I estimate the number of abandoned / vacant properties to be over 3,300.

In general Trenton will have to attack the problem of revitalization of abandoned / vacant properties one neighborhood at a time starting with downtown.   We don’t have the resources, yet, to address the entire city at once.

Our efforts will address both city owned and privately owned abandoned, vacant and underused properties.   For city owned property our goal will be to get them on the tax rolls, not make money from selling them.

1) Lower the cost of revitalization

Enhance our tax and subsidy package for redevelopment

  • A standardized Revenue PILOT for large projects reduces risk for developers and provides transparency for all taxpayers into how the city works with large developers
  • A graduated abatement on improvements of up to 15 years.  This includes the existing 5 year abatement plus a new abatement in redevelopment areas as per NJ law
  • We will add an additional subsidy on improvements in the downtown district

Reduce risk for redevelopers by

  • Improving the public safety situation while development is going on
  • Increasing code enforcement on adjacent buildings in focus areas

Launch Homesteading in a few neighborhoods

  • Properties will be sold to homeowners for $1
  • Abatement Programs will apply
  • Buyers will be matched with local contractors and architects where needed
  • Neighborhoods will apply to participate and will be required to show support

Demolition: where a buyer wants it and our professionals agree it’s appropriate, we will sell a property to a developer, cleared.

2) Establish a more fluid market.

Use the NJ Abandoned Properties Act in Trenton for the first time.  It’s been used now in Jersey City

Track all vacant properties with help from

  • Efforts from non-profits like Isles, TCCA
  • Expanded responsibilities in our economic development and inspections department to track and identify vacant properties (our proposed budget will include funding for this)
  • Making a city-wide ticketing system available that allows residents to report abandoned properties

Outside Legal help on Closings to speed up a process that has been woefully slow and disorganized

4 hour inspections appointments instead of the current practice of allowing 22 days to review simple plans

3) Create demand by

Establishing a public / private marketing entity “Trenton Sells” co-founded with realtors and developers. This group will be the conduit for our marketing efforts.  It will:

  • Publish a web site and newsletter
  • Target Millennials along the Northeast corridor
  • Publish our vacant property inventory on the web site
  • Hold regular Open houses for the city

Matching up homebuyers with architects and contractors.   We can make renovation easier for buyers buy helping them find local development help that knows how to work in Trenton

Developing a neighborhood level branding plan. Neighborhoods will have the opportunity to sell their neighborhoods by establishing the right message. Hopefully the Master Plan includes this work

Pitching to New Urbanist Developers. There are developers who specialize in building urban neighborhoods.  They are part of a large and growing national trend.  A revitalization-minded Economic Development department will seek out these developers and invite them to Trenton.

Key Reorganization tactics

Reorganize inspections under the Economic Development Department. This will focus inspections on the job of meeting our goals

Set measurable goals that require us to put property back on the tax roles

  • Increase our ratables by 10%
  • Increase our population to 90,000
  • Track our progress on reducing abandoned properties

State regulatory Asks

The job of a Mayor is to make sure the State is working for us, not against us.  A Trenton Mayor should work with our legislative team and urban Mayors across the state to enact pro-redevelopment legislation.

Land Banks: Potential enhancements to our ability to use Land Banks beyond what is currently in the Abandoned Properties Act.  We want to provide mechanisms engage for-profit firms to help and to make sure our laws help us deal with quiet deeds and that they don’t prefer subsidized housing.

Land Value Tax: A two tier tax system can be used to make it harder to hold on to vacant land and profitable to develop it.  Land Value Tax legislation would provide a cleaner mechanism to encourage redevelopment than tax abatements as it would be available to all property owners.

Urban Income Tax Zone: Push to have Trenton become a test city for an urban income tax zone.  The maximum income tax bracket in Trenton would be set at 2% instead of 5% making it very attractive for higher income New Jerseyeans to move to Trenton.

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10 Responses to “A Plan for Addressing Vacant / Abandoned Properties in Trenton”

  • Hello Dan,
    Thanks for this post. Very good ideas. I like the way that you pointed out some of the key levers that can be used to stimulate redevelopment and to make the tax policy more uniform.

  • Jim Gordon:

    1. Q. Does “A two tier tax system” mean that a privately-held property, vacant for 12 months e.g., is taxed at double the normal property tax rate ?
    2. With the Active COOPERATION of the City tax office & volunteers from neighborhoods (TCCA, e.g.) might we begin a slow, steady digitalization of vacant properties; publicly posted on city or other website(s) ? For the purpose & effect of allowing anyone walking/driving by to punch-in the address & access owner name, contact info, assessed price. I believe that Phila is working on such a system.

  • Martha Press:

    There are 4 abandoned houses on Quinnton Avenue. The rest of my block has very responsible owners who keep their properties in good repair and attractive. This would be a good place for enterprising folks to come in and create a home with just the cost of repairs. I have been asking the city regularly to check on these homes and help us find a solution. NO RESPONSE!!!!!!! I remember when Mill Hill offered houses for $1.00. It would be great to have this plan move forward. This neighborhood has potential to improve quickly. The properties offer a good opportunity for home ownership.

  • Jim, Q1 Yes land could be taxed at perhaps 4 times the rate of improvements. Conversely improvements would be taxed at a very low rate.
    Q2 – I believe I suggested exactly this.

  • Martha, The tools I suggested lead to a Homesteading program that would be appropriate for your neighborhood. Keep in mind that this plan originated with Jim Golden. So if you like it perhaps you’ll consider giving him your vote.

  • Roebling in His Grave:

    Wow, having Isles work on the vacant/abandoned properties inventory would be an awesome idea — if it were 2004. If you bothered to check in with anyone, you’d realize they are wrapping up a 5+ year investment on this very subject.

  • Actually I do know that Isles has done this. What makes you think I don’t know what’s going on in Trenton. BTW – I generally don’t allow anonymous posters on this blog. Real opinions are for real people.

  • Michael Smith:

    The fundamental reason Trenton has abandoned / vacant properties in Trenton is that it costs more to rehab a property than it would be worth once completed.–admin

    It also stands to reason it cost more to maintain rental properties than a property owner can collect in rents….hence property owners abandon their properties.
    The reason? Rent control. aka price controls Any economist will tell you rent control creates housing shortages. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing.It also discourages new investment.
    I will not address the merits or the lack thereof of this blog post. I simply to say this. To implement the ideas set forth in this blog post requires a phalanx of attorneys and accounts to navigate the rules and regulations set forth including only the deepest of pockets and the closest of political connections to get anything done.Where all that is really necessary is repeal one law and watch nature take it’s course

  • Of course rent controls are a indefensible warping of the free market that certainly has unintended consequences. However, my experience has been that Trenton’s situation has been immune to rent controls in recent years because our market conditions don’t allow landlords to raise rates in the first place.

    That said, our rent controls have a chilling effect on investment in Trenton.

    A few years ago I attended a real estate investors meeting where one of the topics was dealing with Trenton’s rent control rules. This was a sure sign that Trenton has created an unfavorable climate.

  • Michael Smith:

    However, my experience has been that Trenton’s situation has been immune to rent controls in recent years because our market conditions don’t allow landlords to raise rates in the first place.–Admin

    Shouldn’t that be a matter for landlords and property owners to decide not bureaucrats at city hall or the state house?

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