Blog

Reclaiming Abandoned Properties through APRA

The State of New Jersey has 565 municipalities and seldom is there one-size fits all legislation that works for all of them. Sometimes a state statute can offer something for most everyone, though. The Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act (APRA) has been implemented in a variety of ways throughout the state. The tools afforded to municipalities under APRA give municipalities various options for acquiring and conveying properties to responsible parties to restore or repurpose. These tools- accelerated tax foreclosure, special tax lien sales, receivership, and spot blight eminent domain- can help transform individual parcels and entire neighborhoods[i].

The use of specific tools by municipalities can be dictated by a number of factors, including which combine well with other tools already in use, familiarity with or capacity to carry out one of the processes over the others, or the advice of legal counsel. All of the tools have been tested here in New Jersey and none has been successfully challenged in the courts.

Atlantic City is one municipality currently using APRA to help revitalize its neighborhoods and rehabilitate problem properties. After meeting with Diane Sterner and Laura Wallick from NJCC in late 2015, the City started the process of using APRA's tools locally. Atlantic City began by passing local ordinances, appointing a public officer, surveying properties they suspected were abandoned, and developing a strategy for how they would move properties from the Abandoned Property List they created into a pipeline toward redevelopment. The City is looking to utilize special tax lien sales and spot blight/eminent domain to convey properties to responsible developers. The City is also looking to strategically demolish seriously derelict properties it takes ownership of in order to convey vacant land to developers and residents looking to rebuild on those sites.

The struggles facing Atlantic City have been well chronicled but the City deserves praise for the way they have engaged citizens during the implementation of their abandoned property strategy. City Planning Director Elizabeth Terenik and officials in the Code Enforcement office have been intentional about scheduling public discussion sessions and attending meetings with various groups throughout the City.  They’ve worked with city residents and community groups to identify properties in their neighborhoods that should be on the list. Further, they are working to prioritize properties in parts of the City where the removal of such a problem property could stabilize the block or neighborhood. During the abandoned property identification and notification process, the City has seen property owners come forward to address unsightly conditions on their properties. Those properties are being invested in for the first time in years.

NJCC is currently partnering with AC's Bungalow Park Civic Association on the implementation of a NeighborWorks Pride in Place grant to promote their neighborhood as a complement to their work restoring abandoned properties there. Ms. Terenik is actively engaged in this project as the project team (the Civic Association, NJCC and the City) looks to increase awareness of this hidden gem to attract new residents, including new occupants for the abandoned properties that will be redeveloped.

The future for Atlantic City is still a work in progress, but there are important steps being taken to address problem properties and shore up pivotal neighborhoods. Conveying properties to responsible redevelopers will provide the City with a more stable tax base and new residents. The energy around this strategy from City officials to community groups to residents represents a positive step forward for Atlantic City. NJCC looks forward to continuing our relationship with the City and its partners.

 

[i] Use of special tax lien sales and spot blight eminent domain require passage of an abandoned property list ordinance by the municipality and creation of an official list by the designated public officer.