More fix-or-flatten projects to come, total number of eligible properties unclear

A residential property at 904 N. Eighth was one of the sites selected for Quincy’s fix-or-flatten program this year. The court has authorized that the property may be demolished but action is still pending. Planning and development staff said additional fix-or-flatten projects should come to the City Council soon.

QUINCY — From 2011 to 2018, a total of 42 fix-or-flatten properties in Quincy were acquired and demolished by the city, 21 properties were demolished by the property owner and 13 were repaired to the point they were no longer a public safety threat.

Although 10 properties were selected for the program this year, Quincy Planning and Development Director Chuck Bevelheimer said the hope is to double that number through a combination of grant funding and the allocation of recreational cannabis tax revenue.

However, city officials said a total number of Quincy properties eligible for the fix-or-flatten program is unclear.

Michael Seaver, director of inspections and enforcement for the city of Quincy, said Quincy tries to run about 10 to 12 properties a year through the fix-or-flatten program. These properties are presented and approved by the City Council but can be subject to change based on a property’s threat to public safety.

Seaver said a severe structure fire could be one reason a property may jump to the front of the program’s line.

“We have enough derelict structures that it’s not difficult at all to pull 10 or 12 of those out that are far beyond repair,” Seaver said. “So at this point, and for the past several years, pretty much everything we’ve done are just strictly demolitions. We’ve probably not fixed any of the structures that we’ve identified.”

To determine which properties may be eligible for fix-or-flatten, inspectors will check with utility records for properties that have had their utilities disconnected for a long period of time, identify properties with delinquent taxes or consult with the police and fire departments for reports of fires or trespassing.

In most cases, Seaver said his department will send a number of notices to the property owners for certain nuisance issues like uncut grass or broken windows.

To ensure better communication with rental property owners before these nuisance issues escalate to the point of demolition, the city has drafted a residential rental property registration ordinance, which will be up for vote at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Bevelheimer said if a property is small enough and has no neighboring buildings, the city will demolish the building themselves. Otherwise, the work gets contracted out.

Quincy Township Assessor Lisa Gasko said that when a nuisance property is demolished through fix-or-flatten, it is taken off the tax roll. However, the assessments of neighboring properties remains mostly unchanged.

“It doesn’t seem like (fix-or-flatten) affects the neighboring properties as far as them selling,” Gasko said. “Unfortunately for some of the neighbors, their assessment is still at market value.”

Seaver said his department didn’t have an estimate of the total number of derelict properties in Quincy, which is partly by design because his department cannot take on a problem bigger than its ability to solve.

“We’re probably going to hopefully introduce another six to eight properties to council here in the next couple of months,” Seaver said. “In the lead-up to that, we evaluated about 150 properties (but) not all of those would’ve been derelict. We’re trying to cross reference delinquent utilities, delinquent taxes and fire reports that maybe we didn’t know what the follow-up was on that.”

Of the 150 properties evaluated, Seaver said about 16 properties could go through the program right now.

A feasibility study performed by Evanston-based Teska Associates last year to evaluate the establishment of a land bank estimated that there were about 1,900 vacant housing units in Quincy alone.

On Thursday, the Two Rivers Land Bank Board of Directors met to discuss the terms of this new tool Quincy has to combat nuisance properties.

The land bank, which is a partnership not only between Quincy and Adams County but Jacksonville and Morgan County as well, may help to expedite the legal process to acquire properties for redevelopment and identify properties suitable for redevelopment before they deteriorate to the point where demolition is the only option.

Although this redevelopment strategy is still in its early stages, the board discussed which bank to use for the land bank and how it wished to communicate with the media and the public.

Adams County Finance Committee Chairman Bret Austin, who serves on the board, said there definitely should be a priority watchlist of properties the land bank could acquire and a selection matrix to determine eligible criteria.

“Sometimes, something could be a total dud for us and we wouldn’t want it as a land bank so what is that selection criteria?” Austin asked. “We’ll probably just have to all dig into that together.”

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