St. Petersburg reduces number of vacant and condemned properties
When Rick Kriseman became mayor in 2014, St. Petersburg had more than 800 vacant and condemned properties that needed the city's attention. As his first term comes to and end, Kriseman says that number is down to 244 — in keeping with a campaign promise.
"In Cabinet this AM, Neighborhood Admin Mike Dove reports we're down to 244 boarded/vacant properties," Kriseman tweeted on Oct. 2. "Never thought under 250 was possible."
The process of cleaning up these properties has been happening for quite some time.
In 2014, Kriseman created the Neighborhood Affairs Department and hired Mike Dove as the agency's head. Dove oversees housing, social services and codes compliance, with a particular focus on blighted areas.
When he got into his position, Dove said the city prioritized demolitions near schools and parks and in places where criminal activity was occurring. He said of the original 830 properties, 297 have been demolished by the city or by property owners.
But the city didn't just demolish properties.
The city also recruited private and nonprofit housing rehabbers and developers to encourage them to pursue the properties on the city's list. For example, a North Carolina-based nonprofit called Builders of Hope bought 73 empty homes in the Midtown area for rehabilitation. (Ultimately, Builders of Hope rehabbed some of their properties, and then sold the properties to other entities.)
Dove said the most important factor in reducing the number of blighted structures was the increased enforcement for maintenance of these properties from the Code Compliance Department.
Since Kriseman's promise was to "expedite" demolition, we wondered how Kriseman's first four years compared with the rate at which homes were demolished under former Mayor Bill Foster.
The city said when Foster took office in January 2010 there were 534 vacant and boarded structures citywide. In the beginning of December 2013, when Foster left office, there were 827 vacant and boarded structures citywide.
It's worth noting, however, that during Foster's tenure, there were dramatic changes to the housing market because of the economic recession. Kriseman took office well after the economy rebounded, which reduces the growth of properties that needed to be boarded in the future.
"There will always be some boarded properties," Dove said. "With over 140,000 structures, aging buildings will keep popping up . . . We have some of the oldest housing in the County."
The city reduced the number of vacant and boarded structures from 830 to 244 over the last four years. We rate this Promise Kept.
Email exchanges with Mike Dove, neighborhood affairs administrator, Nov. 27
Interview, Kevin King, Kriseman chief of staff, Nov. 22
Revamped agency not making blight of the problem
Rick Kriseman campaigned on strengthening St. Petersburg neighborhoods, in part by speeding up the process of clearing the city of condemned homes.
The new mayor set to work immediately, creating a Neighborhood Affairs Department and hiring Mike Dove as the agency's head. Dove was former deputy mayor for neighborhood services before retiring in 2006.
He has assumed responsibilities previously handled by leisure and community services. Kriseman split the two functions, putting things like parks, libraries and golf courses in one area and housing, social services and codes compliance under Dove.
When Kriseman took office, St. Petersburg had 830 vacant homes, including a backlog of about 150 condemned homes the city needed to demolish.
Dove has set to work on the process, meeting with investors and rehab groups to deal with the vacant properties -- for example, helping close a deal with a North Carolina-based nonprofit called Builders of Hope to sell 73 empty homes in the Midtown area for rehabilitation -- and scheduling demolition for the rest.
Benjamin Kirby, the mayor's communications director, said the number of boarded-up or vacant homes already had shrunk to 781 as of the end of May, a "dramatic" decrease in that span of time.
He also said Dove had reprioritized the demolitions and was working with the county on asbestos removal in many of those homes.
"You can't just take a bulldozer and bulldoze the house," Kirby said. "There's an entire removal process that's involved, which takes time do safely."
Since Jan. 2, Kirby said, 28 structures have been torn down through the city's condemnation and demolition program. That number does not include structures demolished by the owner.
The promise was to "expedite" demolition, however. How does this year compare to the rate at which homes were being demolished under former Mayor Bill Foster? The city tells us that from Jan. 2 to June 1, 2013, there were 25 homes torn down.
Three more in the same time time frame doesn't seem much faster, but Kirby says more will be coming down soon. Because some homes are still awaiting demolition, we rate this promise In The Works.
Tampa Bay Times, "St. Petersburg swears in Mayor Rick Kriseman with showy outdoor ceremony," Jan. 2, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Editorial: St. Pete's renewed effort on vacant homes," May 15, 2014
Tampa Bay Times, "Editorial: Kriseman promises, now must deliver," April 30, 2014
Interview with Benjamin Kirby, mayor's communications director, May 30 and June 2-4, 2014