Gloversville gets $178k grant extension to fight blight

GLOVERSVILLE — The city of Gloversville is set to receive $178,750 from the New York state Local Initiatives Support Corporation to help fund the enforcement of the city’s anti-blight and vacancy laws.

On Nov. 5 the city received a letter from the New York state Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), informing city officials that grant funding to help pay for the city’s “Zombie and Vacant Properties Remediation and Prevention Initiative” has been extended through April 30 and increased by $60,000 from the original amount of $118,750.

Mayor Vince DeSantis said the money will be used to help fund 25 hours per week for the city’s Neighborhood Quality Administrator (NQA) Joe DiMezza and DiMezza’s full-time assistant Josh Flint who helps to keep track of the vacant properties registered with the city under Gloversville’s vacant property ordinance passed in 2016.

Gloversville’s vacancy ordinance requires the owners of vacant properties, which are often banks, to register with the city’s fire chief, and then declare a plan for the property, either: demolition, rehabilitation or continued vacancy. The law was modeled after a successful program in the city of Geneva, located in Ontario and Seneca counties. Gloversville’s vacancy ordinance imposes a surcharge of $1,500 for any property that stays vacant for longer than 365 days, and then $2,500 in the second year and then $5,000 in the third year.

“What this did was it moved mortgage banks to where they were going to be penalized if they took possession of a property through mortgage foreclosure and then just left it vacant,” DeSantis said. “Because what that does is it deteriorates neighborhoods, because they become zombie properties. This pressures the banks to either make peace with the owners of the property or recycle that property at reasonable terms to somebody new.”

DeSantis said the implementation of the vacancy law in 2016 helped spur the interest of the LISC in giving the city multiple grants to help pay for the program. He said it also spurred the attention of the banks.

“I remember our Assessor Joni Dennie saying ‘you know, there are people who are interested in these properties that are zombies and the bank won’t even return our calls,'” DeSantis said. “So, this law makes them interested. The clerical officer of the Neighborhood Quality Administrator, Josh Flint, is really single-handedly monitoring the vacancies. He keeps track of it, and Joe is out there enforcing the blight ordinances, and when he notices a vacant property he gets right on that.”

Recent reports to the Common Council by Fire Chief Tom Groff show the total number of vacant or zombie properties in Gloversville has fallen from 360 down to 127 since the implementation of the program.

DeSantis said the LISC has awarded Gloversville a grant to help fund the Neighborhood Quality Administrator position multiple times. He said the first grant was for $149,000 and the city contributed $50,000 to help fund Flint and DiMezza’s positions over a two-year period. He said the second grant was for $125,000 and the city contributed the rest to help fund the program for another two years. DeSantis said the entire program now costs approximately $110,000 annually, and the most recent $178,750 will help pay for it for at least another two years. He said his intention is for the program to continue with or without state funding, but the state funding has been crucial to starting the program.

“This is the third round for us with this LISC grant funding, and they’re really, really happy with us because we have really used that money to great advantage,” DeSantis said. “And the whole idea of reducing vacancies form 360 down to about 127, has really made our program kind of a model for how to use this money.”

Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr. is the sponsor of the council resolution tonight to accept the funding from LISC. He said he believes the Neighborhood Quality Administrator office program has been going well, but the city needs to improve how it communicates the new code enforcement rules to the general public. He said posting the information to Facebook or giving it to the newspaper or radio station is insufficient.

“I think it’s going well, but I think there needs to be more parameters around it, and something should go out to residents,” Rowback said. “Some kind of notification given out to residents of what the city is actually looking for or asking for. Whether it’s grass being too tall, garbage on their front porch or debris in the yard. I’ve had several residents and also landlords call me and say ‘hey, I’ve gotten 14 tickets” and they’re $30 a piece, so they add up.”

The city recently posted some of the rules for the codes enforced by the NQA officer.
Some of the rules include:

• Garbage receptacles cannot be kept in front of a house unless placed in a closed shed or garage.

• Excessive accumulation of debris clearly visible from the street is prohibited — including porches.

• Under no circumstances is loose garbage, including bulk or free items, permitted on the property unless it is on the terrace for regularly scheduled bulk pickups.

• Bulk pickups can be placed on the terrace no earlier than noon on the day before the scheduled pickup.

• Front and back lawns must be kept to a height of less than nine inches.

• No excessive overgrowth from shrubbery is allowed.

Rowback said when a landlord or resident is hit with multiple tickets either that person’s council representative or the NQA officer should send the person literature explaining the rules.

“There are people on the council who will say the rules are on Facebook, or it’s in the newspaper or on the radio, but there are people out there that don’t use Facebook, listen to the radio or read the paper, and they don’t know what’s going on,” Rowback said.

The Gloversville Common Council is set to meet tonight at 6 p.m. DeSantis said the council meeting will be in-person, after the most recent meeting being conducted via the Zoom video conferencing program due to a COVID-19 outbreak among city staff. He said people who enter city hall will be required to wear masks.

By Jason Subik

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