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Council to Discuss City’s Vacant Properties

Vacant / foreclosed house - a source of concerns

Vacant / foreclosed house – a source of concerns

At tonight’s worksession, we will discuss what actions the City could take to address vacant properties. It’s clear to everyone that vacant properties are detrimental to the quality of life in the City in several ways. Vacant properties leave a neighborhood susceptible to crime. Vacant properties do not contribute positively to the streetscape. Vacant properties become a burden and challenge for code enforcement. Vacant properties under-utilize much needed inventory in our real estate market. If you’re interested to purchase a property you can seek help from experts like estate agents in limehouse.

At a minimum, the community would like to see these properties better cared for. Ideally these properties would be occupied, see here for my response.

We wish to discuss expansion of our City Code to include a Registry of Vacant Properties, mandatory for all vacant property owners. This initiative would require the Council to:

  • Define “vacant property” (e.g. does “unoccupied”= vacant, or does vacant= wuninhabitable”) and other related terminology
  • Clearly define the goals of a vacant property registry
  • Authorize staff to create an inventory, based on Council definitions, of vacant properties
  • Determine if there is a problem which justifies further financing, legislation, and enforcement
  • Authorize staff to create a reporting process structure and a database to support a registry
  • Adopt legislation including possible fines/fees to support the program

At this point, we have not proposed an annual fee or special tax, but believe it might be appropriate to implement a fine for vacant property owners for not complying with regulations. That said, we have discussed this issue understand that vacant properties legislation will increase staff workload. We believe regulation might be most effective if it were complaint based. Residents could report an alleged vacant property (via College Park Central) and then City staff could confirm the status of those properties.

We think a registry might be beneficial for the property owner because it could enable the City to have regular communications with vacant property owners and it could potentially enable police to address issues on the property in the absence of the owner.
By better understanding the volume of vacant properties in the City, we think we can better identify problems and solutions. Discussion should Include whether initiatives should address vacant properties in general, or case-by-case; and, if an annual fee, or a special tax would incentivize the return of vacant properties to occupancy.

Locally, the City of Mount Rainier here in Prince George’s County has adopted legislation addressing vacant properties, and the City of Takoma Park in Montgomery County has discussed the issue. We’ll look into these legislation at tonight’s worksession. And if you’re currently looking for new homes for sale in Brunswick, GA, you may visit the Landmark 24 Realty homepage for more info.

Council to Review City’s Home Ownership Program Rules

Home ownership

In tomorrow’s work session, the City Council will discuss a review of the home ownership program to attract more professionals to live in College Park and replace the foreclosed or rental houses into owner – occupied houses.

The program started back in 2006, however went through couple of changes. Back in summer last year, it was also expanded to include volunteer firefighters working in the city as the eligible persons to receive the grant. The maximum amount of grant was also increased from $5000 to $7500.

Three issues have arisen lately with regard to the implementation of the program which the council will be discussing in tomorrow’s working session.

1. The amount of the grant that can be awarded. The program allows for a grant of up to $7500.00 for qualifying properties, to be used at settlement. For certain categories, this amount was $5,000.00 at one time, but all qualifying properties are now entitled to the same amount under the policy. No criteria have been provided to staff to determine whether a grant amount less than the maximum should be awarded. As a result, in past years, the full amount was awarded to any qualifying property. Two years ago, a determination was made during budget discussion by Council to limit the grant awards to $5,000.00. The grant policy itself was not amended. In the past year, staff has continued to rely upon the instruction from the prior budget year in awarding $5,000.00. Staff is seeking guidance as to what the level the grant award should be ($5,000 or $7500) and, if the Council wishes to allow for staff to exercise discretion in awarding something less than the maximum, that the Council decide upon the criteria for that  discretion.

2. Awarding a grant to an individual not otherwise in good standing with the City. The current policy does not prevent an individual from applying for and receiving a grant if that person is not otherwise in good standing with the City. For example, a person who has failed to acquire a required City permit or who has outstanding code violations could apply for and receive a Home Ownership Grant. If the Council wishes to require that anyone receiving a grant from the City be required to be in good standing in order to be eligible, the policy should be amended.

3. HUD Foreclosure requirements. An application for the Home Ownership Grant was recently received that involves HUD. This agency is requiring a certain provision to appear in all loan documents, including the City agreement. Please see attached document. If the provision is not included, HUD backed financing will not be provided. The provision states that, in the event of a foreclosure, any provision restricting the use to low or moderate income housing, or otherwise restricting the owner’s ability to sell the property, is void with respect to subsequent buyers. I believe this wording could affect the enforcement provisions in the agreement, specifically the ability to add any unpaid amount to the property tax bill.

Please let me know what you think.

Get Help to Avoid Home Foreclosures!

Foreclosed House

[This information came from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and its regional partners, who are sponsoring a campaign to help local residents avoid foreclosures on their homes]

If you’re facing foreclosure of are having trouble staying current on your mortgage, you are not alone. The Capital Area Foreclosure Network (CAFN) – a partnership between the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington – can help.

Text ‘HOME’ or ‘CASA’ to 877-877 or call the regional foreclosure hotline at (888) 794-8830 (English and Spanish) to get connected to a free housing counselor in your area and receive advice and tips on avoiding foreclosure. Services are available in both English and Spanish. Find more information at

Fannie Mae also provides resources to help those struggling with foreclosure. IN partnership with NBC4-TV, Fannie Mae is hosting “Know Your Options,” a free Foreclosure Prevention Phone-a-Thon, “Know Your Options,” on January 31 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. You can also visit to get help. And, watch NBC4 starting January 23 to see how other homeowners avoided foreclosure.

Remember, you do not have to face foreclosure alone!

Trail Talk 3: Vacant House, Wild Animal and Code Enforcement

Vacant / foreclosed house - a source of concerns

One of the major complaints I’m hearing during my talks with my neighbors is the issue with the vacant houses and its effect on the quality of life.

Due to deep recession we’re in, our city is having a record number of vacant and foreclosed houses. Many rental houses are staying vacant because of lack of renters, who prefer to rent a cheap apartments instead of relatively expensive houses.

The vacant and foreclosed houses are causing a serious concerns among the neighbors who live next to these houses. A major complaint they have is that the rental houses are not kept in good condition by the landlords and the banks who own these houses. This, they think, is degrading the neighborhood and bringing the property values of the entire neighborhood.

I met a neighbor the other day who says her next door house is foreclosed, but the yards are not kept in good condition. She also suspects some wild animals probably live in the shed located in the backyard. This neighbor said sometime she wakes up in the middle of the night hearing animal sound. She is also afraid of her children at home.

Next day, I called the City, who did a good job in sending the code enforcement also someone from the animal control to take care of the situation.

The issue here I see is that, our City needs to have a better system in reporting and tracking these code enforcement related issues. Though currently, one can search the code violations on city’s website, but there is no online system to report and track these issues. Residents should also report these incidents anonymously, since some of them may be afraid of retaliations afterwards.

City Firefighters Get Help to Own Houses

Home ownership

The City currently offers $7,500 grants to people who purchase rental properties or foreclosed or vacant properties, or who work for the City or as police officers or career firefighters, as long as they agree to live in those homes for at least five years after they purchase them.

When the City expanded the program to career firefighters and EMT’s, the volunteer firefighters from College Park Volunteer Fire Department and Branchville Volunteer Fire Department requested that they be included in the program as well.

The Council initially had some concerns about ensuring that people were bona fide volunteer firefighters, and last week, representatives of the fire departments came to speak about how they ensure that volunteers are engaged enough with the department to qualify for different benefits from the fire department.

These volunteers have to gain a certain number of points, which requires them to go on a certain number of rides or otherwise be substantially engaged with the department for at least two years.

“I feel that passing this incentive for volunteers will help ensure that additional volunteer firefighters live and serve in College Park.” – said Patrick Wojahn, District 1 council member.

[Source – NCP listserve]

MD Emergency Mortgage Assistance

Emergency Mortgage Assistance

As more and more houses are going into foreclosures, here is a news of relief.

There is an opportunity available for individuals and families who are struggling to maintain and stay in their homes in Prince George’s County. The Emergency Mortgage Assistance program is administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded $39 million to the DHCD to help Maryland homeowners who are facing foreclosure due to an involuntary loss of employment or a reduction in wages or hours due to economic adversity or a medical condition.

Please see this brochure for more details, and please feel free to share it with other Prince George’s County Residents.

PGPOA Sends referendum Letter To College Park Homes

PGPOA Letter

In a new twist to the politics surrounding the referendum petition, College Park residents have started to receive a letter from the Prince George’s Property Association (PGPOA) yesterday. The letter asks residents to support the petition, which will force the City to put the referendum questions to the upcoming November election if it receives support of 20% of total registered voters.

Here is the full text of the letter.

The initiatives are sponsored by concerned voters in the City of College Park and the Prince George’s Property Owners Association. The Association has secured the services of a professional organization to collect the required signatures to place the initiatives on the next ballot.

The initiatives simply provide the voters the opportunity to vote on the issues.

It would NOT preclude future tax increases. It merely requires that the City Council obtains voter approval to increase taxes. If the Council cannot justify a tax increase, it would need to live within its current revenues.

Currently, Rent Control only applies to single family homes and small apartment units. This initiative would apply the law to ALL rental units in the City, including the high-rise apartment units. It is a question of fairness and equity, and levels the playing field for all property owners.


The initiative will not affect the Homestead Tax provisions of county law, and will not impact current rental licensing and inspections and fees on rental properties.

Please remember, signing these initiatives is your democratic right.

BOTTOM LINE: It provides the opportunity for YOU, the voter, to have the final say on these vital issues.

City Tries to Revive Near-Dead Home Ownership Program

Home ownership – College Park style!

The City’s Homeownership Grant Program was launched in Year 2006 with $100,000 to encourage the conversion of single-family rental properties to owner occupancy.

However, the number of grant awards has decreased in the last two years, so much so that it has come to a screetching halt. The City awarded one grant in Fiscal Year 2010 and has not awarded any grants in Fiscal Year 2011. One grant is pending, but a settlement date has not been scheduled at this time.

In last Tuesday’s council session Council decided to revise the program guidelines to make foreclosures, short sales and condo properties eligible for grant assistance.

The City hopes a modification to the program may accelerate use of funds. There are 40 properties, 6 of which are condos, listed in College Park that are short sales or foreclosures. Opening the program up to allow short sales, foreclosures, and condos to be eligible for program assistance could increase the pool of eligible properties and potentially increase interest in the program. If you’re looking for assistance with condo rental, his comment is here to help you.

The goal of home ownership is consistent with Goal IV, Objective 2, Action a. of City’s FY 2011 Action Plan.

The City’s program provides grants of$5,000 to individuals purchasing a single-family property that was previously rented for a minimum of two years. Grants are also available for city employees and certified police officers to purchase any property in the city to encourage employees and police officers to make their homes in College Park Grants are provided at settlement and go toward the down payment Of closing costs.

Program participants agree to occupy the property for a minimum of five years. If the property is sold prior to five years, a prorated portion of the grant must be repaid. Should the owner rent any portion of the property to any person while not living at the property or to more than two other persons while residing at the property, then the grant must be repaid in full.

In Fiscal Year 2009, $22,500, the funds remaining in the program, were transferred to the College Park City-University Partnership by Council Resolution (CR 09-R-02) dated January 13,2009, which effectively ended the program. In Fiscal Year 2010, the program was re-established in the Capital Improvement Program with funding at $20,000. Eligible grant amounts have varied over the years. In Fiscal Year 2008, grant 42 amounts were increased from $5,000 to $7,500 to increase interest in the program.

Grants were reduced to $5,000 in Fiscal Year 2010. To date, the City has awarded 13 grants (7 at $7,500 and 6 at $5,000). Ofthe thirteen grants, one property went to foreclosure (9012 Autoville Drive) and one participant has violated the terms of the agreement (6700 Rhode Island Avenue). A lien will be placed on 6700 Rhode Island Avenue to recover the grant, which if not paid will result in the property being put up for tax sale.

House Prices Fall, Sales Double in North College Park

Home sales nearly doubled between 2009 and 2010, the market has come to life again, but prices have fallen in North College Park.

Mark Shorder, former council member and North College Park Civic Association president disclosed these figures in this month’s NCPCA meeting. 

According to the statistics, number of house sales have gone up from 29 in 2009 to 57 in 2010, whereas average prices have per square foot have fallen from $219 to $188 during this period.

Because every house is different from every other, the number the prices in the report are divided by the square feet in the home.  By this measure, house prices in North College Park fell 14 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Please see a detailed breakdown of the sales figures across the different regions here. Most dramatic changes in the statistics can be seen in the Sunnyside are, where sales exploded (from 1 to 8), but prices fell by 32%.

City Population Rises to 30K, Nearly 1 in 5 Houses is Vacant, Census Says

College Park Population

The 2010 Census numbers are in.

The Census Bureau released the numbers for the state of Maryland last Wednesday. It also published the data for the counties and towns within the state through its American FactFinder website.

Once every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a decennial census, which is mandated by the Constitution. Under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, the first census was conducted in 1790, shortly after the American Revolution.

According to the Census website, College Park’s population has gone up by about 20% in the past 10 years, from a total of 24,657 in 2000 to 30,413 in 2010.

In terms of population distribution across races, Hispanics / Latinos have added the most to the city’s population in the past 10 years. In terms of percentage, that number is a whopping 58.5%. A similar number for Whites is only 4.25%, Blacks (6.6%) and Asians (5.57%).

Whites, however, remain the dominant race in the city (60%), followed by Blacks (14%), Asian (13%) and Latinos (12%). 

College Park population, between 2000 and 2010

The other striking aspect of the census result is the vacancy figures of housing units inside the city. The city currently has a total of 8,212 housing units. Of that, 1,455 units are unoccupied.

That means, nearly 18% of city’s housings are vacant. In other words, no one lives at 1 in every 5 houses inside our city (almost).

The vacancy number is rather alarming and thus may indicate problems such as recent housing foreclosure may be to blame.

District 2 council member Bob Catlin however has a different explanation for such a huge vacancy rate. Catlin thinks it could be city’s student dwellers who are to blame.

“Many students don’t answer the census and by the time workers are sent to these properties in June, school is out for the summer and the property is vacant.” – Catlin wrote to me in an email.

Catlin thinks the vacancy rates should be around 5%. “I noticed that other cities had vacancy rates of about 5 percent.” – Catlin added.

The theory that absence of UMD’s students is to blame for city’s high vacancy figure, however, fails to explain why 2000 Census saw a very small vacancy rate. The 2000 Census also happened exactly at the same time of the year, yet the vacancy rate was only 3.44%.

For an interactive map of the state’s Census data, please check this report on the Washington Post.

More on the Census statistics of College Park can be seen below.

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