City is using receivership against blight

In response to recent letters to the editor and guest opinions published recently in the Mail Tribune, we at the city of Medford have received inquiries regarding the use of a receivership program to help alleviate blight and problem properties. The short answer to that question is that the city of Medford has a receivership program and has recently begun putting it into use. While receivership is a good tool, discretion is required in implementation to ensure that government does not abuse its authority.

Receivership is a remedy passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1989 to allow communities to deal with particularly egregious properties that are problematic in neighborhoods. Like many of you, the City Council is aware and concerned about the proliferation of vacant, blighted and boarded-up homes in Medford.

In response, the city has tightened its ordinances regarding property maintenance in general and also implemented a receivership program to deal with the worst offenders. While the common hope in all cases is that through agreements or problem-solving ideas, the property owner will eventually come through with a solution, the best intentions do not always translate into reality and receivership is sometimes the best method for resolution.

Receivership works where no interested party elects to repair a nuisance property. In those cases the city can petition the Circuit Court to appoint a city department or willing nonprofit agency as a receiver, which has the ability to take control of the property, renovate it and return it as livable housing stock.

Reasonable costs associated with rehabilitating a property must be paid by an interested party of the property. If those costs are not paid, they constitute a lien on the property that takes priority over other security interests.

While the goal is to help stabilize neighborhoods and protect everyone’s home investment, the choice to rehabilitate a property by means of receivership should not be done casually. A typical property appropriate for receivership in Medford is one found in serious violation of building codes or otherwise abandoned and creating a hazard for the spread of disease and criminal activity.

How such properties reach such a state can be from a variety of reasons. The owner of a property may be dealing with a personal tragedy or health problems and unable to handle the burden of home ownership. The owner may have died and the estate is in a difficult probate. Of course there is a less sympathetic case of the absentee owner who has simply abandoned the property, but that is not a finding that can be made with superficial due process. Regardless of the cause, we as a city will help protect the owner from loss while the property is improved to protect the health and safety of the neighborhood at large.

Medford’s receivership program began in late 2015, with a draft program brought to the council in March of 2016. After a full review of the issues and subsequent revisions, we were able to revise our nuisance property ordinances and develop a receivership property program in November of that same year. While Medford has 350 properties on our Vacant Residential Property Registration and 31 on the blighted property list, we selected five critical properties as the initial ones under the receivership ordinance this March.

From court proceedings to renovation, these initial properties going through the process will be a new experience for the city and lessons will be learned. We may find our approach to be too conservative, or on the contrary that more restraint is needed. Regardless of the challenges, we as a council are doing what we can to help improve neighborhoods and are utilizing all of the tools available to us to accomplish that.

— Michael Zarosinski is president of the Medford City Council.

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