NIAGARA FALLS – Every year, more crumbling buildings in the urban core get demolished.
Many abandoned, empty homes in Niagara Falls – as in many other poor, deteriorated Rust Belt cities – go by the way of the wrecking ball. Their final destruction is paid for with taxpayer dollars – at a cost of about $20,000 per demolition job.
But whose property is the city tearing down?
Last month, the city awarded a contract for the demolition of 19 structures. Of the properties on that list, eight are owned by someone with a Niagara Falls mailing address, while eight others have out-of-town owners. Three are owned by the city.
Of the 16 privately owned structures, all owe back taxes. Eleven of them were already on the city’s preliminary foreclosure list, meaning the city was looking to take possession for failure to pay taxes.
Several were purchased by their current owners for only a few thousand dollars.
Some of the properties had previously gone into foreclosure and were put up for auction by the city.
Of all the buildings in this round of demolition, they’re being taken down not because of their tax situation, but because of their condition.
It’s a cycle that Seth A. Piccirillo knows all about. As director of the city’s Department of Community Development, part of his job is to find new uses for vacant buildings.
“Too often, out-of-town landlords buy property, get whatever rents they can get, then leave the structures to rot, leading to tax foreclosure and/or demolition,” Piccirillo said in an email when asked about out-of-towners who have properties on the demolition list. “Losing the house is not their major concern. Neither is the status of the neighborhood.”
Piccirillo continued: “They bought the house for little money, made money on the rents, and paying taxes or making equity improvements do not fit into that formula. They also do not live here, so it’s not in their backyard.”
Piccirillo said the city usually tries to renovate city-owned properties instead of demolishing them. But when an owner lets the conditions of a property deteriorate to the point where it’s blighted and a public safety hazard, the city is left with little choice but to demolish, he said.
While the cost of the demolition ultimately gets added to the tax bill of the property owner, the city usually foots the bill.
Often, the demolition speeds up the foreclosure process, Piccirillo said.
Many landlords know how to play the game of public auctions and manipulating the foreclosure process to get what they can out of it, he said. “Out-of-town landlords, and slumlords in general, are good at the in-rem auction process,” Piccirillo said. “We need to have a smarter approach that gives a percentage of these properties an actual purpose.”
Several of the owners of properties on the demolition list also own other properties that are on the city’s preliminary foreclosure list, issued in November. The owners with multiple properties include Sandra Wood Deudy, 538 4th St. LLC, Starfire Development LLC and FCB Properties.
There had been a 20th property on the demolition list. It was another single-family, city-owned home at 1311 Michigan Ave. The city decided to remove the home from the demolition list. Instead, the Isaiah 61 Project – which rehabilitates properties as part of a program that teaches participants new job skills – will renovate the property.
Demolitions on the latest Falls list
Property - Owner - Address
927 Center Ave., Danny Zomparelli, Toronto
602 Niagara St., Niagara 538 4th St. LLC, New York City
515 Walnut Ave., Guy and Nicole Isidore, Stony Point
528 10th St., Joseph Zaki, Scarborough, Ont.
2809 10th St., Gary Chan, Scarborough, Ont.
1121 Pierce Ave., Starfire Development LLC, Woodbridge, Conn.
1639 Weston Ave., Elias Xanthas, Roslyn
144 56th St., Gregory S. Fisher, Morgantown, W.Va.
1500 Ontario Ave., LGS Tavern Inc. and Charles Hinks, Niagara Falls
2928 Highland Ave., Arthur Myles, Niagara Falls
1337 Ontario Ave., Catia Bass, Niagara Falls
414 Seventh St., Ursula Mangel, Niagara Falls
414½ Seventh St., Ursula Mangel, Niagara Falls
432 Eighth St., FCB Properties, LLC, Niagara Falls
1136 Willow Ave., Sandra Wood Deudy, Niagara Falls
1310 18th St., City of Niagara Falls
1419 18th St., City of Niagara Falls
412 10th St., City of Niagara Falls