Rehabbers Name Des Moines' Seven Most Endangered Buildings

Victorian Home in Danger of Demolition: This home is on the City's "Public Nuisance" list and may be demolished if deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner.Victorian Home in Danger of Demolition: This home is on the City's "Public Nuisance" list and may be demolished if deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner.A charred Sherman Hill mansion and a former one-room schoolhouse have been named among “Des Moines Seven Most Endangered Buildings” by the Des Moines Rehabbers Club. Over the period of about a month, the Club received nominations from the public for buildings, homes, and other structures within the City of Des Moines in danger of demolition or neglect. The resulting list will help raise awareness of endangered structures in Des Moines and promote opportunities for rehabilitating them.

In no particular order, the following have been selected as “Des Moines Seven Most Endangered Buildings”. Visit http://renovatedsm.com/node/316 for more information and photos of the buildings.

  • 692 17th Street, Sherman Hill neighborhood.
  • East Woodlawn School, 2930 Euclid Avenue.
  • 1910 Officer’s Quarters, Fort Des Moines.
  • Kingsway Cathedral Church, 901 19th Street.
  • Roadside Settlement House, 620 Scott Avenue.
  • Gas Station, 203 E. Grand.
  • 1021 26th Street.

The last one on this list is on the City's "Public Nuisance" list. Being listed as a public nuisance is technically a legal action, and subjects the owner to fines if the deficiencies are not corrected. Ultimately, if the items listed on the public nuisance action are not remedied, the structure may be demolished by the City.

Unfortunately, this solution punishes the building for its owner's actions (or inaction). I fear that otherwise salvageable historic structures may be demolished simply because there is no alternative to force compliance with local ordinances and building codes. This has several negative consequences:

  1. Historic buildings are lost. If too many buildings are demolished, it becomes impossible to maintain architectural stability and precludes a neighborhood's nomination as a historic district.
  2. The cost of the demolition is charged against the property. This makes redevelopment much more difficult because there would likely be more liens against the property than it is worth.
  3. Demolition promotes an environment of waste. When buildings are viewed as expendable, it becomes more difficult to promote long-term solutions to housing and commercial redevelopment.

Other communities, where there is a predisposition to preservation, have instituted a sort of "receivership". The National Vacant Properties Campaign discusses the idea of receivership as a solution to nuisance properties:

Receivership is a powerful legal remedy tool available for preserving distressed residential property, with the goal of improvement and stabilization. Many state receivership laws authorize a municipality or sometimes citizens or a nonprofit housing development corporation to file a civil court action that seeks the appointment of a receiver to take control of a substandard or abandoned building. The plaintiff must provide sufficient evidence that the property’s conditions create a public nuisance—a relatively easy task in the case of most abandoned buildings and vacant properties. The court can then issue a civil injunction or abatement order that gives the property owner or responsible party a reasonable opportunity to abate the public-nuisance conditions before the court appoints a receiver. If the owner fails to comply with the abatement order or fails to respond to the lawsuit, the court can appoint a receiver, who can then make the necessary repairs to rehabilitate the property. Because the receiver’s costs have a higher lien priority than do existing mortgages and encumbrances on the property, many state receivership laws require that all parties who have a financial interest in the property get notice of the civil action and appointment of the receiver. Before the owner can legally reclaim the property, he or she would need to pay the receiver’s repair costs and associated liens. Otherwise, the receiver and/or the local government could acquire the property through foreclosure.

I would love for Des Moines to explore options for creating a receivership process to rehabilitate, or at least mothball, rehab-able public nuisance properties.

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