New York state asbestos regulations are exacerbating Jamestown's housing surplus problem.
After going through an lengthy asbestos remediation process, a damaged house at 23 Center St. was demolished Wednesday. It's one of the first of many much needed residential demolitions for this year.
The number of residences the city will be able to demolish this year is limited, however, due to the high cost of demolition, stemming from regulations. From the prioritized list of 30 properties requiring demolition, the city has the funds to complete 12 to 15 projects. That number is up from the 10 to 12 houses demolished last year.
Jamestown Home Demo
According to Steve Centi, city development director, the burden and additional cost of asbestos remediation and removal hampers the city's ability to resolve or make headway on Jamestown's oversupply of housing due to a decrease in population.
Housing surplus is not only just a Jamestown problem, it's a statewide problem, as there has been a reduction in population throughout the entire state, said Centi.
"We have issues relating to older housing stock which was built in a point in time when the population was larger," said Centi. "The population has since declined, so we have a surplus of units."
The city is attempting to rightsize to get the number of units more in line with the current population. This requires the demolition of vacant, substandard and abandoned residences.
Centi said the dilemma on the demolition side is that "it hasn't been easy, it hasn't been cheap and it hasn't been timely."
The first step of the demolition process is legal remediation, consisting of first posting the property, determining the owner, taking the owner to court and receiving a court order for a demolition, if the owner doesn't have the ability or willingness to demolish the structure.
The city then must start the asbestos identification and removal process. Before demolition of a residence can be started in New York, an asbestos survey must be completed to identify if asbestos is present, and if it is present, the asbestos must be completely removed before demolition.
Asbestos is most dangerous when it's in a "friable" form, meaning that the fibers can become airborne. Centi said that a lot of the asbestos found in Jamestown homes isn't in a friable form, but must be removed anyway before demolition.
Pennsylvania is not required to go through the asbestos process for any residences with three families or under. The bulk of what the city is demolishing are one and two family homes.
According to Centi, the collective cost for a residential demolition in Pennsylvania is approximately $7,100 while the total cost in New York is approximately $23,000.
"They can demolish three houses to our one," said Centi. "It puts us at a competitive disadvantage."
The city's demolition fund consists of money allocated from the city in the city budget, which is local taxpayer dollars, and grant money from the Community Development Block Grant. This year there is $393,644 in the demolition fund, which is the largest fund the city has seen in a number of years, according to Centi.
"We will file a lean against the property in an attempt to recover the funds prior to it going though, for example, the county tax foreclosure process," said Centi. "It's really wishful thinking on my part. The truth is they've already walked away from the physical property, and there is hardly any likelihood that they are going to put up the money to cover the cost of the demolition just to keep ownership interest on a vacant lot."
"We'd like to see the state relax the requirements, and we'd like to see the state provide funding that would allow us to do demolitions to get rid of this excess stock," said Centi. "I think you could apply that same type of methodology to any other municipality within the state of New York or probably in the whole North East that has to deal with these same issues."
He said the city would benefit if the state just lifted the asbestos regulation for a period of time to offer a window of opportunity for the city to find and utilize city, federal, state and philanthropic funding to rightsize the excess units in a big sweep.
There were couple years in a row where the city submitted resolutions from the City Council asking state representatives to remove the onerous asbestos requirements, but nothing ever came of it, he said. Centi explained that the state gets a fee of around $4,000 that is part of that cost for every demolition that's done in the state of New York.
"We are going to continue to take people to court and see if they will tear it down on their own dime. If they don't, we will proceed with demolition on those houses that we deem to be public health and safety hazardous," said Centi. "We'll board and secure them, until such time that we have the funding available to remove them from the landscape."
"It's just unfortunate that we are doing it at a cost that's three times what it takes to do the same thing in Pennsylvania."