Eckardt earns award for work on vacant properties
— Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, recently was given an award for her work in the last Maryland General Assembly session on legislation that aims to curb the number of vacant properties in blighted communities across the state.
Along with Del. Marvin Holmes, D-23B Prince George’s, Eckardt was given the Community Development Network of Maryland’s President’s Award on Sept. 29.
During the legislative session, Eckardt and Holmes worked on a few pieces of legislation that aimed to curb the number of vacant and blighted properties scattered not just throughout their districts, but around the state.
“It was a bipartisan effort to provide more tools to the municipalities and the counties to help eliminate vacant properties and blights,” Community Development Network of Maryland Executive Director Odette Ramos said.
“If we don’t build our communities and be able to work with the futuristic economic objective that we’re able to launch and set the stage for all the new businesses that are going to be more tech-driven, that and
streamline our education and be able to have adequate housing for families that’s affordable, we won’t survive,” Eckardt said.
Eckardt said Holmes had been working on aiding communities with blighted properties for a long time, and she is sort of “the new kid on the block” in this issue and has been working on it with Holmes for the past few years.
She said in Dorchester County, there were lots of properties that people “just walked out” on that needed to be addressed, and there were issues in Talbot County regarding adequate affordable housing for young professionals and fledgling families.
“As long as you have property owners who are not as concerned doing anything with the property, and if there’s nobody living in the property, that’s when you can quickly develop the broken window syndrome,” Eckardt said.
In Easton, Eckardt said when she first was elected she sat down with elected officials of the town and they all looked at how to approach getting older properties back into homeownership. The town has since launched initiatives that continue to work to do that.
Dorchester began to inventory its vacant properties and try to find ways to get them back onto the tax roll. But unpaid taxes on vacant properties were causing trouble; they were so high that they were not ideal to buy at tax sales, because whoever bought them would have to pay off any unpaid taxes, “which can be astronomical, unless the county is willing to negotiate a deal,” Eckardt said.
A group of housing experts later suggested the lawmakers work on a bill that authorizes a variation of land banking.
Although municipalities already have the ability to create land bank authority, the legislation Eckardt and Holmes put together allows multiple communities and multiple agencies — any combination of such entities — to come together and form their own organizations, become a 501(c) (3), be allowed to fundraise, and then turn vacant properties and get them back to home-ownership, “if that’s what the desired outcome is,” she said.
“It was landmark legislation because it does provide the tools for those communities who might want to use it, and I think we have several on the Shore who want to use that,” Eckardt said.
Another piece of legislation created a task force on tax sales, with an aim to put together legislation for the upcoming legislative session in 2018.
Eckardt is co-chairman of the task force alongside Sen. Jay Walker, D26-Prince George’s, and it includes representatives from Dorchester and Prince George’s counties, Baltimore City, the Maryland Association of Counties, the Maryland Municipal League, Maryland Association of Municipal Water Agencies, Center for Community Progress, Community Development Network of Maryland, National Tax Lien Association, Maryland Multi-Housing Association, Maryland State Bar Association and Maryland Tax Sale Participants Association. Eckardt said a representative from the Maryland Historic Trust should be added to the task force.
“It was very interesting to see so many different people come to the table and to be able to really hammer out the issues, so to speak, and everybody was very surprised at that, but pleasantly surprised at the combination of all the different players,” Eckardt said.
Another piece of legislation Eckardt worked on allows for expedited foreclosures to move a property as quickly as possible.
Ramos said the point of the expedited foreclosures is not to “kick people out of their homes,” but if the home has been vacant and abandoned for some time, now the bank can foreclose on it quicker “so there’s some kind of action on the property and it’s not sitting there for two or three years.”
For Eckardt, the bills were about enabling local jurisdictions to have the tools they need to solve their respective issues with vacant properties and blighted communities.
“They have really been working diligently here in Dorchester, and I know they have in Talbot, and the same things are happening here in Caroline and in Wicomico,” Eckardt said.
“It looks like we’re going to be able to do some significant work moving forward, and I think it will benefit the whole state. And that builds on, I think, now is the time to build the infrastructure in our rural communities, because if we don’t, we’re going to lose ground,” she said.
As for the award, Eckardt said she had no idea she was going to be given it and was “very surprised.”
“I received (the award) on behalf of all the local people who were concerned about housing for local citizens,” she said. “They are the ones that do all the hard work to get that in there, we (legislators) just bring it over the finish line.”
Del. Marvin Holmes, D-23B-Prince George’s, left, and Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, receive awards from the Community Development Network of Maryland for their work on vacant property and blighted community legislation.