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No end in sight to abandoned properties

January 10, 2019

ROCK FALLS – The city continues to cross off projects from its abandoned properties list, but unfortunately, there is no shortage of vacant buildings to take their place.

At the last Building Code meeting last week, the committee received updates on 10 vacant properties that are in various stages of the abandonment process. While significant progress is being made by the city’s building department, four new blighted buildings were officially added to the list.

Building Inspector Mark Searing was given permission to begin abandonment proceedings at 1504 10th Ave.; 710 1/2 Avenue A; 207 Stanley Court; and 504 E. Ninth St.

The city has received grant allocations three times from the state’s Abandoned Properties Program that is run by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The program, established only for cities and counties, is funded with foreclosure filing fees. The money can be used for gaining possession of properties, maintenance, demolitions or rehabilitation.

There is a sense of urgency in working through the list – the grants have an expiration date and the money comes to the city through reimbursement.

“This grant is nice, because we can get back the money we spend on mowing these properties and other work such as boarding up the buildings,” City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.

The city spends between $10,000 and $15,000 a year on mowing the deserted properties.

The city was awarded its first grant through the program in January 2012. That grant expired in July 2014. The second round expires later this year, and the deadline for the third grant is 2020. The grant awards have totaled $128,412.18, and the city is still spending from the second cycle.

Officials are hoping for good news from IHDA on a fourth grant.

“We submitted our application in December, and we’ll probably hear something in February or March,” Blackert said. “We asked for the maximum of $75,000 this time.”

While there is a legal process for handling the properties, circumstances make some properties much more complicated and time-consuming than others. The properties can be in court for a long time before cities are able to gain possession. Once they do, appraisals must be done, and if they are sold, the city shoots for 80 percent of the appraised value. But things don’t always go according to plan.

Property at 1200 W. 15th St. will be sold in “as is” condition for $500 just to get it off the books and keep it on the tax rolls. The new owner will fix it up for rental property.

“We advertised it three times and received no bids, so we had exhausted all of our options,” Searing said.

Property at 1606 Fourth Ave. has the same owner – Emil Benzakry – as the former Checkers gas station at 1116 First Ave. Police seized the properties in 2012 after a bust for synthetic drugs and paraphernalia at the former gas station. State drug liens have tied the city’s hands ever since, and there are now 14 liens on the Fourth Avenue house.

Three basic criteria must be met for a house to be considered an abandoned property: no one has resided there in at least 3 years, and no utilities or taxes have been paid during that time.

The building department also compiles a watch list that usually has six to 10 properties, but that one is constantly changing, Searing said.

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