Eckardt earns award for work on va­cant prop­er­ties

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

— 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.”

COUR­TESY OF COM­MU­NITY DEVEL­OP­MENT NET­WORK OF MARY­LAND

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.

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