Understanding the Demolition Assistance Program

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

During the July meeting of the Darlington City Council, the Demolition Assistance Program (DAP) was approved by council after several months of presentations by City Building Inspector Alex Gainey.

“The goal is to provide a demolition assistance program to remove unsafe, uninhabitable and dilapidated buildings,” Gainey said. “We want to assist low-income property owners to remove blighted buildings while maintaining their ownership.”

Gainey said that property owners would have to meet the criteria before being accepted for the program.

“Qualifying property owners would pay a fee to participate in the program, a minimum fee of $500,” Gainey said. “The City of Darlington would remove the structure from the property and the property owner would maintain ownership of the property, during and after demolition.”

Several items of criteria include

• The building must be deemed unsafe or uninhabitable by building officials

• Individuals must have owned the property for at least two years

• Property taxes cannot be delinquent

“The program fee is based on the property owner’s income; it will be based on a sliding scale like what HUD uses for low-income rental property,” Gainey said. “The benefits of that are going to be low-income property owners are able to keep their property without further penalty or liability for the demolition. We would be removing dilapidated buildings, which is vital to the growth of the City of Darlington. It lessens the appearance of economic distress, increases community appeal, spurs redevelopment and revitalization with investors, homeowners and rehabbers.”
Gainey said that during the last council meeting, council members asked him what would happen to the dilapidated properties if council did not adopt DAP.

“I did a little research,” Gainey said. “Basically what happens is if we decide not to adopt it, it will go through the standard procedures like we’ve done in the past. If I identify that a piece of property needs to be demolished, we’ll send out notifications to property owners. If they don’t respond within the 30 days, we’ll turn it over to the attorney. The attorney will do all the legwork to make sure that the deeds are properly done and there is not a bunch of mortgages on it. Once he gives us the go-ahead, we’ll tear the property down, whether we bid it out or whatever the case may be. The property will be torn down at the city’s expense at that point in time. Once we tear it down, we in turn will send a bill to the property owner, that didn’t respond to start with, for the cost of the demolition plus 15 percent for administrative costs.”

The process is a lengthy one, Gainey said, and in the end the city may not even see any money.

“If they don’t pay the bill, once the taxes come due at the end of the year, we will access their taxes,” Gainey said. “If the property taxes are say $1,000, for easy figuring, it cost us $3,500 to tear the property down and now we’ve got a cost of $4,500 plus because you have to add the administrative costs to it. That $4,500 is what it is going to cost them on their taxes at the end of the year. “

“By the time the tax auction comes up, it is going to go before the tax auction. If the property doesn’t sell to satisfy the taxes, the property goes to the Forfeited Land Commission for Darlington County and at that point, the county owns the property. The City of Darlington is still responsible for keeping the property up; the county is not going to keep it cut. Whether we contract it out or pay city employees to do it, there is going to be a cost involved. Once it has gone to the Forfeited Land Commission, if someone says they want to but it they can sell it for whatever price they deem reasonable.”

Gainey said that the city will have to absorb some of the cost of the demolition regardless of how the property comes down but at least with the DAP they are getting some money from the property owner and not becoming the caretaker for vacant properties.

“We are all here to help the citizens of Darlington…that’s what my goal is,” Gainey said. “I don’t want to take their property from them; I don’t think the city wants to take the property from them.”

Author: Duane Childers

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