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City battles growing vacancy problem; taxpayers foot the bill

Crews contracted by the city of Syracuse clean up vacant homes on McAllister Avenue on the southside of the city.

Crews contracted by the city of Syracuse clean up vacant homes on McAllister Avenue on the southside of the city. Photo by Amanda Seef.

— Nearly 1,7000 buildings within city lines have been left empty, costing city taxpayers nearly $2 million a year in upkeep costs.

The blight of vacant homes is a national problem, only growing worse from the housing bubble burst of the last decade, according to data from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Census data shows there has been an uptick in properties being left vacant. In New York alone, there’s been a 30 percent increase in abandoned homes in the last decade. High foreclosure and unemployment rates could be to blame for the growth in empty locations, the GAO said.

The price tag of empty

What the city budgets each year:

$1M — court-ordered demolitions

$114,000 — board up costs by the DPW

$435,000 — monitoring and upkeep of buildings by code enforcement

$230,000 — contract with landscaping company for additional upkeep

“It pretty much continues to grow, particularly with the recession and the economy — people were hit pretty hard,” said Corey Driscoll, deputy director of code enforcement for the city of Syracuse. “We’ve seen vacant properties gradually grow.”

Between mowing, demolition, trash removal and police services, taxpayers are footing the bill for these homes and commercial properties.

“We spend a lot of money trying to maintain these properties to incredibly minimal standards,” Driscoll said. In fact, at least $1.5 million is allocated in the city budget each year to deal specifically with the upkeep, or demolition, of these buildings.

Driscoll’s department works to identify vacant properties in the city, looking for signs that no one is living in the home — it may have started to deteriorate, the lawns are left unmowed or trash has been left at the property.

“We go out every three to four weeks to look at each one of these properties,” she said.

The department will check to make sure each home is secure, looking to ensure doors are locked and closed and windows are in one piece. If they’re not, Department of Public Works employees are sent to board up the first floor doors and windows, coming at a cost of $114,000 yearly to taxpayers.

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