REPUBLICANS in the Legislature like to use conservative rhetoric. Too bad they don’t back always it up with action. A new law that prevents Oklahoma towns from establishing abandoned property registries shows the gap between what GOP lawmakers say and what they do.
Supporters of House Bill 2620, which banned the registries, say it protects property rights. That’s only half true. The legislation protects some property owners from government regulation — particularly those who allow property to fall to pieces and become a haven for criminal activity.
But if you happen to own a home near one of those abandoned buildings, and if associated criminal activity is harming your quality of life and driving down your property’s value, apparently your rights are of little concern to lawmakers.
Abandoned properties are a big problem. Indifference does nothing to benefit citizens in the surrounding community, notwithstanding some lawmakers’ suggestions to the contrary. In Tulsa, the city previously had a registration program targeting neglected properties that had been subject to code enforcement action. Building owners were required to develop a plan to either rehab or remove structures.
Note to lawmakers: Improvement of abandoned properties is a good thing.
Tulsa officials also considered a rental unit registration program in response to a January 2013 quadruple homicide at a south Tulsa apartment complex.
Second note to lawmakers: Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, even when you pretend it’s the “conservative” thing to do. In this instance, lives could be severely impacted because of legislative action.
In Oklahoma City, Interim Planning Director Aubrey Hammontree cites a study that showed abandoned buildings “significantly reduce surrounding property values and pose threats to public health and safety.” The study found there were more than 12,000 vacant and abandoned buildings in Oklahoma City. The owners of those properties were paying a tenth of the amount paid by owners of occupied homes in property tax, sales tax, franchise fees and other charges. Abandoned buildings drive down local property values, costing citizens $2.7 billion in unrealized value.
Third note lawmakers: Economic growth and prosperity are tied to increases in the value of one’s property, not declines caused by the actions (or inaction) of others.
Oklahoma City adopted a registry in December. It must now be abandoned.
Why did so many legislative Republicans vote to protect irresponsible property owners at the financial expense of neighbors and community safety? Why did they not trust local citizens to decide these issues?
The Oklahoma Association of Realtors has declared that HB 2620 “assures municipalities do not negatively affect economic development by placing revenue-raising fees and fines on property unnecessarily, such as cases of vacant but well-maintained property.”
The bill’s supporters are effectively arguing that tolerance for abandoned properties can be a form of economic development, but efforts to force improvement of those sites somehow harms economic growth. And supposedly “conservative” Republicans voted as though this makes sense.
If there’s a third way to resolve the issue, we call on Realtors, municipal officials and lawmakers to find it. The problem of abandoned property isn’t going to solve itself.