I will be presenting at TED X Buffalo tomorrow about preservation, the vacancy vortex and heart bombs.
I wanted to write a simple post to explain the Vacancy Vortex to you… although it is one of the most complex issues I have ever experienced and trying to explain it is very hard.
If you see a house that is vacant, I want you to assume that it is wanted. Then realize that it is just stuck in the “process” which we call the Vacancy Vortex. The process is often so difficult to navigate, it can push potential owners away very quickly – if you are lucky enough to get that far. Often times it take knowing someone like Jason or I just to understand how to begin to navigate this process – there is no “FAQ” sheet or a simple 5 step process. If you want a building that is vacant, it will take time and resources to track down the owner, figure out what the issues are and to finally, purchase it. BUT! When you succeed, you will find yourself owning a great house that you probably bought dirt cheap.
A great example of the vortex is this. in 2012, I tried to buy a dollar house on the West Side. It was a beautiful Italianate house with great historic detail (windows, doors and staircase). It was owned by the City of Buffalo and had someone just put up a tarp or put tar on the roof, it would have avoided the roof leak that basically destroyed the entire side of the house, causing thousands of dollars in damage. The house was uninsurable, not financable and was trashed on the inside – all hurdles that scared the hell out of me. Looking back on it, had I known what I know now, I would not have turned down the offer! But in the heat of the moment, we left it to someone else. (Good news, it has since been purchased! – You can read about the story here!!)
Some potential reasons the house is vacant may include one or many of the following reasons: back taxes, liens, owner death, owner is holding on because it is cheap to hold and wants to do nothing with it, housing violations, city owned, not City owned but the owner is no where to be found, no financing for rehab available, no housing insurance, no phone number or address for the current owner on file… and the list goes on and on. The longer the house sits – the more damage it gets. The vacancy crisis is real in Buffalo but the more we all know, the better advocates we become for getting the houses back on the tax rolls – not turning them into vacant lots that become havens for trash and are worth pennies.
BYP (Buffalo’s Young Preservationists) is focused on many initiatives however, the vacancy vortex often takes the prime spot. We are always boarding up buildings, cleaning out community buildings and repairing doors/holes/windows for owners who cannot afford to do so. Our few hundred dollars goes pretty far – far enough to buy materials and get the job done simply. Every couple hundred dollars we spend, we save building owners thousands. It is a simple step that we take to be proactive and to help out our neighborhoods.
Lastly, I want to thank many people (David Torke, Jennifer & Brendan at the City, Puma, Chris, Jason & ALL) who have helped me understand this process a little better. This is by no means something new but now that the giant landmarks (FLW, Guaranty, Shea’s!) are saved, we can focus on understanding this process and helping to revitalize our neighborhoods!