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St. Petersburg creates foreclosure registry to nip blight in the bud

ST. PETERSBURG — A foreclosure registry has been created after more than a year of debates and several votes by the City Council.

The council voted 6-2 Thursday to create the registry. Chairwoman Leslie Curran and member Jeff Danner opposed the measure.

The new rules will require lenders to pay $125 to register a property within 10 days of filing a foreclosure notice. And banks will have to provide contact information for a property manager in case the homes fall into disrepair.

Council member Karl Nurse spearheaded the proposed registry in 2010. He doesn't want the city to spend taxpayers' money to mow lawns and board up windows after homeowners vacate properties. He's glad it passed.

"We need to do something to clean these neighborhoods up," he said.

Since the housing market crash, residents have grown tired of seeing properties with overgrown weeds and broken windows. Currently, more than 4,000 homes in St. Petersburg are in some stage of foreclosure.

The council rejected the registry last month. The next day, Jim Kennedy changed his mind and brought the registry back to the group after tweaking the ordinance.

One change: Banks will be exempted from filing if they hold a second mortgage on properties. And the registry will terminate after two years if the council doesn't reconsider it after 18 months.

After initially opposing the measure, council member Bill Dudley supported the registry Thursday. He said it isn't perfect, but the city "certainly needs to do something" to keep abandoned homes from destroying neighborhoods.

Still, Brian Shuford, a lobbyist with the Pinellas Realtor Organization, said city staffers presented no evidence showing that registries reduce blight. Banks, he said, will not mow or board up houses if people are living in them.

And the contact information for property managers can be found on other websites, Shuford said, adding: "They passed something that will not work. It's a money grab."

The council debated the $125 filing fee after a staffer explained how he arrived at the cost.

"We based this off other municipalities," David Dickerson said.

Nurse then mentioned a dozen other cities that charge higher fees for registries. Mayor Bill Foster then urged the group to pass the legislation.

Danner questioned what the city would do with money generated by the registry each year: "A half a million dollars to maintain a list is a lot of money."

The city will not profit from the registry or be allowed to use the money for other expenditures, City Administrator Tish Elston responded.

Council member Charlie Gerdes made a motion to charge $100, but the group voted it down.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459.

Another attempt to rid the city of blight

The City Council unanimously approved a program Thursday to eliminate or reduce liens from many deeds when the liens exceed the property's market value. Currently, more than 300 properties fit that criterion.

The city would never be able to collect that money, staffers say, and the liens are blocking those properties from being sold.

Hundreds of properties racked up liens and assessments when city workers mowed, demolished, secured or inspected them. The city has no power to remove liens for sewers, drainage, seawalls or dredging.

To have the entire assessment forgiven, an owner must build a single-family home on the property within one year. The liens would disappear when the owner occupies the home. Flippers and investors would not be able to eliminate the entire lien.

Council members and staffers hope the program entices builders to buy pockets of properties for in-fill development.

St. Petersburg creates foreclosure registry to nip blight in the bud 11/02/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 7:04pm]
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