Monday, April 18, 2011

In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1 - SmartPlanet

In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

by Tyler Falk,
April 15th 2011

What can cities do with all their vacant properties? The city of Buffalo is trying to sell theirs for a buck.

The Urban Homesteading Program sells vacant property to homesteaders under the conditions that they will begin making immediate improvements and eventually bring the property up to code. Once renovations have been made the homesteader also agrees to live in the property.

WKWB, in Buffalo, reports on one of the most recent sales, the Lyth Cottage, built in 1886:

Newton paid the city a buck for the house and pledged to bring the historic building up to code and live in it for at least five years. This is all part of the “Buffalo Homestead Program” that helps to save distressed, tax foreclosed homes from demolition in the Hamlin Park Historic District on the city’s East Side.

“Lots of people have been pushing Buffalo to where they want it to be so I’m doing nothing new but I’m glad to be a part of it,” Newton said.

Tim Tielman with the Campaign for Greater Buffalo said it would help grow the area.

“What they wanted to do is look at the history here, capture it, use it as a basis for economic development. This is a very successful example,” Tielman said.

It’s definitely a win-win for both the city and the homesteader. The buyer gets a deal on the property and the city not only gets a vacant property off its hands, but it improves the neighborhood, retrofits a historic property, and brings stability to the neighborhood with the buyer agreeing to live there.

Watch the video report from WKBW:

See Video:

[Via Planetizen]

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  •   1


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

    "up to code" = need to have LOTS of money and time to accomplish it.

    Reworking even a 20 year old building to meet MODERN standards is a challenge.

    It would be worse if they lived in a Hurricane / Tornado / Earthquake zone - the cost would easily double for an old building over what they expect right now to spend.

  •   2


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

    Yeah he got the property cheaply, but he'll spend it's true worth or more in restoring it. XD

  •   3


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

    Very good thing for the city, neighborhood and home buyer. Similar plan here, San Jose, CA, but the houses all went to SJSU teachers, a charity group and perhaps 2 to private individuals. In closing I say, "Right on Buffalo."

  •   4


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    It will be interesting to see how this works in the long run.

    I am interested to see how "stable" these neighborhoods remain.

    Restoring houses of this nature is mainly a labor of love; there is
    little to no economic justification for the expense it takes to bring
    such housing up to contemporary code or even livability. You
    have to be someone who appreciates the architecture and
    limitations that living in such a home demands. There are only so
    many people with the desire and disposable resources to enter
    into such a venture.

    Several years ago, there was a debate in my area about the
    number of old homes that were being town down to be replaced
    with modern ones. The "preserve everything" crowd lamented
    that this was happening, and wished regulation that would have
    made doing so difficult, if not economically impossible.

    The reality was that there is only so much of a demand for such
    homes, since the number of people willing to go to the trouble
    and expense of restoring such homes was quite limited. The
    surplus of these homes would simply continue to deteriorate,
    along with the neighborhoods they were in.

  •   5


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

    I would imagine they are saying code for a remodel permit, not
    the equivalent new construction code. If this is true and the shell
    of the home is structurally sound, I don't see how remodeling it,
    not luxuriously but reasonably and cost consciously, would be
    any more expensive than a new construction.

    If you are getting the property for $1, you're basically getting a
    newly remodeled home with lots of character for the cost of a new
    suburban breadbox. These neighborhoods with historic houses
    usually become sought after and expensive after rehabilitation. It
    happens all the time down here in Texas, and people usually pay
    a lot more for the unremodeled property than $1.

  •   6


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    RE: In Buffalo, urban homesteaders save historic property for $1

    As a resident of Buffalo, I get a laugh out of this story. This is not going to work for more than a handful of houses, which by themselves will not be able to raise the value of their neighborhoods. There are simply far too many houses in need of massive overhauls, outright demolition, or just do not hold even the potential value for what it will cost. In many cases, the person who buys and restores one of these homes will lose out even more because the neighborhoods will prevent it from ever reaching close to the value the repairs should have achieved.

    One friend of mine owns a house in a surprisingly still very nice neighborhood only ten or so blocks from where I live. It is a huge house more than double the size of mine similar nice homes around it, but time had done it's job and repairs were needed. A new roof was just put on before they bought it (for close to $100,000 if memory serves correct). Unfortunately, shortly after they bought it, it reached the wonderful age of being 'historic' and the headaches with the city and Historical Society began.

    The society pulled all the permits that had been acquired for work (for fixing the front pillars, a huge cracked concrete porch, etc.). Part of the repairs involved putting on railings around the porch because code and the insurance required it for porches of that height. The society claimed that the home did not originally have any such railings (since they were not required in that era) and that the owners could NOT put them in - either leave it broken or restore it to original. As a result, the costs of repairs went up - since it was now "historic" - and they could not get home insurance without paying excessive fees due to the blatant safety hazards.

    This happened with many other things that needed to be repaired on the home, the society simply wouldn't let them fix it unless it was to the original state of the home - which did not match the current city and insurance requirements and cost substantially more. Had they bought the house a little sooner, the house would not have reached the age and status that allowed for such delays.

    The point? It may sound like a good deal to pick up a property for a low price and repair it, but the city and other groups create nothing but costly and time consuming bureaucratic hurdles for the new owners and the neighborhoods are already a challenge by themselves. It will only take a couple of people becoming entrenched before others stop even considering the idea.

  •   7


    04/15/11 | Report as spam

    Try asking someone who's actually done it.

    I don't see how remodeling it, not luxuriously but reasonably and
    cost consciously, would be any more expensive than a new

    It frequently costs as much, if not more to do so. And in the end,
    you're still left with an antique house with all of its quaint quirks.
    Again, it's more a labor of love instead of a practical endeavour.

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