Syracuse faces problem with hundreds of abandoned properties

The City of Syracuse faces a dilemma: what to do with 1,700 abandoned buildings at a time when the demolition budget has been cut in half.

On Tuesday, in response to a story by CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, the city ordered the demolition of an abandoned house on East Bissell Street. Neighbor Ben Jamison complained it was falling apart, had become home to a number of animals and was being frequented by drug users.

But f or every abandoned home that is torn down, there's another to take its place. Officials figure there are 1,700 abandoned homes in Syracuse and each of them presents a problem.

A s Commissioner of Neighborhood Development, the problem of abandoned houses falls on Paul Driscoll's shoulders. "Our aging housing stock is both our biggest asset and our biggest albatross because when they go fallow like this, they run down and become attractive nuisances and danger and a blight on our neighborhoods." Driscoll said.

Driscoll says i t costs an average of $20,000 to demolish an abandoned house, but this year the city cut the demolition budget in half to $500,000. Syracuse Common Councilor Pat Hogan realizes the city faces a growing dilemma.

" W e just can't afford it. " Hogan said, "W e have to make a choice between whether we have police officers on the street and firemen ready to answer the call and a budget like that."

S o with fewer dollars to tear down these dangerous eyesores , the city has stepped up its enforcement of housing laws. The law department says it is tracking down every absentee landlord and property owner it can find and billing them for the cost of repairing or tearing down their abandoned buildings. Driscoll says the owners take notice when the city hits them in their wallets. "If we can hurt them economically in other areas of their life... seize their boats or put a lien on their property... that will bring their attention to their debts in the City of Syracuse."

T he law department recently reported that they've tracked down some the people who owns these buildings as far away as Alaska and Ireland.

Because there are so many abandoned properties, the city created "Demolition Strategies" in which each one is evaluated and placed on a priority list. In the lowest category are abandoned homes in "Transitional Areas" near highways or industry.

Next is the "One house on the block" where only one house affects a neighborhood.

That category is followed by "Neighborhood Triage where officials evaluate buildings and coordinate a comprehensive plan for the area.

Then there is the "Targeted Plan" where buildings are torn down to make way for specific projects.

At the top of the list are "Emergency Demolitions" where they pose an immediate threat to health and safety. "The job is to make sure each of these 17-hundred properties is secure and safe while we prioritize them in this demolition triage."

Because the city was faced with six emergency demolitions because of recent flooding, Driscoll says the demolition budget could soon run out of money. He expects to go before the Syracuse Common Council later this year asking for an infusion of money into the demolition budget.