"Practice makes perfect."
Steve Centi, city development director, partly attributes the city's successful demolition season so far this year to this phrase.
Earlier this year, Centi set the goal of demolishing 12 to 15 residences in 2012. To date, the city has already demolished 13 vacant, deteriorating and abandoned structures in Jamestown.
And it's only June.
"We've already exceeded this year what we did all last year, and we're only halfway though the year," said Centi.
He said the reason is twofold. The city made the issue of an oversupply of units a major priority and has taken a more aggressive approach to removing these structures. It is also utilizing all the demolition funds that are available to complete as many projects as possible.
"It's a matter of everyone being on the same page, and everyone understanding the priority," he said. "We're making a more concerted effort, and we're putting our money were our mouth is."
Over the last two years, the department of development started utilizing the city's demo line in the city budget. Centi said that previously they weren't using the city's money on routine demos, but only on an emergency basis, like structures that caught on fire, or demolitions out of the target area. Centi said using these funds helps tip the scales and allows them to demolish more building than they have in the past few years.
"It's something that we want to make sure we continue to take advantage of, as long as the city is willing to help in demolitions," he said. "I think there's a feeling on the City Council that there's a definite need for it. I hope that it continues to get funded, and we continue to use that in conjunction with money that we can provide through the Community Development Block Grant program."
He said there is money left in the demotion budget to demolish another five to six houses before the year is out.
"Everyone has been pretty happy here with the pace of it. I'd say we're ahead of the curve here. We'll continue to stay at it, as long as there is money available to do it," he said.
He also credits the successful demolition season to the work of his crew, which has been a man down since they had a retirement in June 2011. They have an extremely busy work schedule, he said, as they wear multiple hats, administering the rehab program and code enforcement, as well as completing demolitions.
"I'm proud of what the guys have done so far this year," he said. "We're trying to look for ways to make it even more streamlined. Maybe try to bundle some things together that might help with some of the costs."
Lowering the cost of demolition would help the city even further tackle its housing surplus problem.
According to Centi, the average cost per demolition this year has been around $21,500.
"If we could reduce costs to $16,000 or $17,000 per house that's a huge step in the right direction," he said.
He pointed to legislation that the state Senate recently passed exempting contractors employed by the city of Buffalo from payment of asbestos project notification fees for demolitions. The cost of an asbestos notification fee can be more than $4,000.
"If you look at the logic behind it, verbatim, I could say the same things about the city of Jamestown,' he said. "The reasons they gave are exactly the same thing that we have. We actually put it into our Neighborhood Plan as something that we would like to see happen and it appears it happened just North of us."
AFTER THE DEMO
However, too much demolition isn't good, either.
"We don't want to go demolition crazy, because in some cases when you have demolition it creates another problem," Centi said. "Now we have to deal with the lot that's there. We don't own it. So it becomes a piece of private property that still sits there. It just doesn't have a house on it anymore. Now the question becomes how will someone care for it."
He said the lot is owned by the same person who walked away from the house to begin with and in all likelihood will walk away from the care of the lot as well.
"So then there is the problem of deciding who becomes responsible for making sure that the lot is taken care of properly," Centi continued, "Like monitoring that the grass is mowed and that people not dumping on the property."
"We're working in conjunction with the Renaissance Corporation to look at ways to deal with vacant parcels," said Centi. "In some cases, they are looking at community gardens, creating off street parking or having adjacent property owners absorb the lots."