How to keep more vacant buildings from turning into problem properties? City Council committee discussion Wednesday

A problem that’s been before the City Council off and on for more than 10 years is back in the spotlight at a council-committee discussion tomorrow (Wednesday).

The problem: Vacant buildings. It’s been 9 1/2 years since the issue gained some attention when a Delridge community advocate invited councilmembers, department heads, and others on a tour of problem properties in eastern West Seattle.

The vacant-building problem has been addressed with incremental legislation over the years. But it’s still a problem. Stats prepared by Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s staff for tomorrow’s meeting of the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee show that West Seattle/South Park District 1 had the most vacant-building-related complaints last year of any of the city’s seven council districts – 95.

95 complaints – but only 2 properties in D-1 were enrolled in the city’s vacant-building-monitoring program. Beyond that, Herbold’s staff found that 44 District 1 addresses accounted for 284 Seattle Police responses last year alone, while 66 houses in West Seattle are signed up for SPD’s criminal trespass program. The slide deck (48 MB PDF) to be presented by Herbold assistant Alex Clardy also shows multiple examples of vacant, deteriorating properties in West Seattle and South Park.

The point of tomorrow’s briefing is to look at what might make the vacant-building-monitoring program more effective; this report from the Department of Construction and Inspections looks at a variety of possibilities, including changing the standards for enrolling properties in the program. For example, the report notes that properties slated for redevelopment usually aren’t enrolled because they’ll be demolished before long. (The report does not address the length of time that can elapse between the initiation of a redevelopment plan and demolition – sometimes years.) Another possibility addressed by the report is a “temporary caretaker” program in which good-quality vacant properties could be made available through nonprofits/social-service agencies identifying people who could live there until demolition is imminent.

You can see how the discussion goes by going to City Hall, or watching Seattle Channel, for tomorrow’s 9:30 am PLUZ committee meeting.

12 Replies to "How to keep more vacant buildings from turning into problem properties? City Council committee discussion Wednesday"

  • D September 4, 2018 (10:54 pm)

    Easy fix: Why doesn’t the city tax the vacant lots at a higher rate to encourage either renting it out or selling it, rather than letting these old  dilapidated buildings sit abandoned encouraging criminal activity.

    • KM September 5, 2018 (9:14 am)

      Oakland is considering this idea. Wonder if it’s been done elsewhere.

  • ktrapp September 4, 2018 (11:47 pm)

    I’m curious as to the reasons why these properties remain vacant.  We’re coming down from a multi-year period where you could buy a house that was deemed hazardous to step into for triple if not quadruple the asking price.  Why haven’t the owners of these properties jumped at the opportunity to sell? 

    • House September 5, 2018 (5:59 am)

      Scenario: it becomes increasingly difficult for a resident to do maintenance on the home as they age.  They may also see fewer problems on the property as they use less of it (stop going upstairs or outside after injury, etc.).  Then the elderly resident passes away.  Kid(s) live out of the state.  Kids are either too busy infighting to sell, don’t have the time/energy/resources to fix the house to make it sellable, or otherwise make plans for the house they’re sure they’ll follow through on and just don’t (I have a co-worker who is half owner of her father’s house in California, has no idea of its condition, and is just sitting on it along with her sibling for this last reason).  It happens more often than you think.  Selling off a deceased parent’s home is a pain, more so when it needs a lot of work, more so when it’s in another state.  And then there’s Harvey Rowe, who has just been hoarding properties in and around Highland Park for decades, leaving them vacant to save them from developers, but not actually renting them out or taking care of them, to the irritation of the neighbors who have to live next to his derelict houses.

      • sam-c September 5, 2018 (8:45 am)

        Yes, this ^^  and even if there are no siblings to fight with… it could be a scenario that the parent never updated their will after their child reached adulthood.  So now, all the stuff is held up by the ‘guardian’ aunt who can never seem to find time to get anything addressed….

      • sam-c September 5, 2018 (8:46 am)

        (It’s hard to sell a house you don’t legally own)

  • Diane September 5, 2018 (1:02 am)

    thanks for link to old story; Mike Dady is one of my absolute favorite people in West Seattle

  • House September 5, 2018 (5:49 am)

    A derelict house near me was sold to a developer.  It took nearly THREE YEARS for that house to be torn down because Seattle’s permitting process for development is so stupidly long and tedious and because they need to have all of those permits in place in order to tear down the existing home.  I ended up in semi-regular contact with him addressing vegetation overgrown and other issues as they sprang up on the property (he never lived on site).  He was just as frustrated as I was that the house was attracting squatters, but moving as fast as he could to tear it down and build a livable house.  We need to streamline the permitting process MORE, especially for properties that are not currently livable.  I’ve never in my life lived in a city that made it so hard to tear down abandoned houses or build new ones as Seattle does.

  • happywalker September 5, 2018 (8:46 am)

    Wondering if ALL of the Harvey Rowe dilapidated houses are  up to date on their property taxes.  One on our block where the concrete block wall is falling toward the sidewalk…WHAT A MESS!

  • john September 5, 2018 (11:08 am)

    Some of Harvey Rowe’s properties on Pigeon Hill were sold last year to the same developer.

  • Judy McTaggart September 5, 2018 (12:48 pm)

    I did some research, and found that a vacant house at 13th SW and SW Cloverdale has recently been sold.  Permits are in process to demolish it and build a new home.  Hallelujah!  This property has been an eye sore since we bought our home in 1982.  It does appear it was a Harvey Rowe property. 

  • CC September 5, 2018 (3:14 pm)

    That orangeish reddish house across from Skylark, the one from the original 2009 article, is still vacant and dilapidated.  10 years!  But at least they did some landscaping last year…

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