The Demolitionists' Dismay (Updated)

Update 12/16/2013 — I was away from the blog this weekend and looking at the comments, I want to make a few things crystal clear:
– You can disagree with me. You do not get to say I’m “way out of my league” for voicing my opinion and then countering with nonsensical, strawman arguments nor do you get to leverage personal attacks when you were warned before. Nor do you get to say that you know the answer when you clearly do not with comments like “I will not get into for it would take volumes of pages to explain in detail on what must be done.”  A red card for Bill Wills , now excluded from commenting on this blog.  
– You can disagree with me on financial issues but you need to bring some numbers to the table. Please don’t insult my intelligence with claims that my numbers are incorrect with ZERO supporting data and expect that this will be permitted as a good-faith argument. A yellow card for Karl Baia.
Please read my rules if you are going to comment. If you do not like my rules and wish to misinform and leverage personal attacks, there are other local blogs and radio stations specifically created for just that. 
Today’s Recorder story lays bare the fallacy of the argument that demolition yields a positive return for tax payers Indeed, it’s pretty clear that demolition costs taxpayers dearly:

In the past, city officials have said leveling a property typically costs $30,000 and $35,000 if the property has asbestos. With about 20 scheduled demolitions in the upcoming year, they would cost the city approximately $730,000.
But, von Hasseln said, that only takes into account the demolition and no one has ever bothered to find the true amount until now.
“We found that [$30,000] isn’t the real cost of blight,” von Hasseln said. “If you take it down, after you spend all of that time in there, it really comes out to be above $60,000 a property.”
The 90 properties demolished because of blight multiplied by $60,000 each is $5,400,000.

But don’t expect financial reality to sate demolitionists’ thirst for demolition. No, I’m sure we’ll be presented with assertions of the how demolitionism is a public good — after all it is a shared service and all the usual nonsensical arguments that go with the claim that demolition is “free” and a net positive for the taxpayer. 
An interesting side story here is whether the pro-demolitionist editorial stance at the Recorder will shift
I’m sure they’ll be loathe to fold up their lawn chairs. 
And hey, how’s that Chalmers demolition — a wonderful venture in demolitionism– working out for taxpayers?

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23 Responses

  1. Bill Wills says:

    Your article intrigues us demolitionists. What you fail to do, which is very common, is to note the problem but not the solution. You would rather have a City full of unhabitable houses which in turn cause the values of adjacent houses in good shape to decrease. In addition, leaving these eyesore houses up gives a false assessment of the actual overall assessed value which is the basis for real property taxes. The result is a City budget so skewed that unless the real problem is resolved financial control will be the only solution.
    A plan should be put into place to redevelop the open land with better housing for our city residents and those wishing to live here.
    Commenting on Chalmers is way out of your league. You did not read the developer’s own market report and what it honestly said about the project’s financial success. I won’t bore you with the details but it basically stated that the original “condo” like plans were not viable and that lesser rents may attract residents but not from without the County. The absence of the Chalmers Bldg. has left an attractive piece of developable land which if we had someone who knows about community development on our City rolls could market successfully. It would make for a “Flippin” good project, higly visible to all.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Bill, I don’t think you’ve read Flip’s blog enough, otherwise you would not have said he is “out of his league” or has not proposed solutions.
      I will say, it’s easy to get the impression by reading Flippin’s posts that he is opposed to any type of demolition. If you get into it with him, however, you will find he is not. He is against the idea of demolition as the main strategy for economic growth.
      I agree that targeted demolition is one way to stabilize neighborhoods and property values. But given we’ve spent FIVE MILLION DOLLARS on demolition, what have we gotten back on that investment?
      There’s a big problem with the idea that open spaces are going to naturally attract home builders and that is our tax rate. Taxes on your average 75-100 year old/80K-100K fmv home in Amsterdam are quite reasonable. But if you build a brand new 200K+ home in Amsterdam, taxes are off the charts. There needs to be some sort of PILOT program if we ever think we will be able to attract new home builders in the city.
      What Flippin has consistently advocated for and which I tend to agree with (in most cases) is rehabbing instead of demolition. Don’t you think we could have used that FIVE MILLION DOLLARS to rehab those 90 houses instead? And then you wouldn’t have to find builders, the homes would be ready to move into. Don’t you think that could have stabilized the neighborhoods just as well and kept those homes on the tax rolls?
      The other thing that Flip consistently points out and which I agree with is that no one seems to mind the idea of going into debt for FIVE MILLION DOLLARS for demolition, but if the Mayor wants a measly $2000 to market the city, or $30,000 to pay someone to concentrate on economic development, people act like it’s the crime of the century. Something’s just not right there.

      • Bill Wills says:

        Tim, I respect your reply. Apparently you are part of a majority who do not know that we have an incentive that was passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by then Governor Pataki giving the City of Amsterdam property tax advantages for anyone who wants to build a house (non commercial use)for ten years. However, no one besides myself who initially got it passed by the State (have a nicely signed duplicate law from the Governor) was interested in pursuing this further by involving the County and City School District.
        What effect if any did past monies each year set aside for marketing do for our City? To buy wasteful signs torn up by the northeast winds, produce beautiful brochures duplicating then the efforts of our now defunct county tourism program, and recently the purchase of rams which are not the symbol of our City but that of our High School. We have become the laughing stock of the Capital District once again.
        The solution to this blight problem is a complex one which I will not get into for it would take volumes of pages to explain in detail on what must be done. You must take a diversified approach which requires time and effort which are two things most politicians in Amsterdam do not have. You can’t have a person who ran a museum almost into the ground run a City. You need someone who is fiscally prudent and knowledgeable of municipal costs. You can’t have a fairy godmother who says that everything is ok and things will get better and then blog all day.
        Watch what happens on the County level with people elected who know something about government and how it works and work in a system that is fair and equitable to all. It’s not “my way or the highway” as that has been found not to work these past two years. Yes the problem of blight is not just the buildings and neighborhoods themselves but City Hall.

      • Tim Becker says:

        I didn’t know about the law you are referring to, that is very interesting. Can you provide me with a name or reference number so I can look it up?

        • Bill Wills says:

          As you can see the demonstration program automatically expired in 2001 because Mayor Emanuele and the Council on which on served at that time took no real action to employ this program (probably for political reasons as I was the only Democrat on the Council at the time). Subsequent requests to ressurrect this program in Mayor Thane’s term weren’t even addressed (probably because she didn’t understand the real impact it would have had). However, as noted in a previous blog an extensive amount of effort had to be expended to get this program to work and that is not within most politicians mind.

  2. Amen.
    I’ve asked for funding to stabilize and rehab properties almost every year since I took office, but the Council(s) have been unwilling to agree to this. I’d like to see tax incentives given to folks that want to fix up their properties as well, as that would have greater impact than incentives for new construction. We are asking the new council to support our redevelopment efforts, especially by giving seed money to the landbank.
    I hope this is our year!

  3. Karl Baia says:

    Your numbers are incorrect on this subject.

    • Rob Millan says:

      Hey Karl!
      Nice simple, baseless answer that won’t fly too high with the people who like actual numbers. Would you care to cite specific reasons to your counter-argument, including any data, results of any studies, or analyses?

      • Karl Baia says:

        You guys can do your own homework on this. I have no inclination to provide numbers and engage in a debate on the matter, I’m too busy with work. I’m just simply telling you that your numbers are incorrect.

      • Rob Millan says:

        Except that’s the thing: had you read the article you’d have picked up that the ‘homework’ is already done as clearly demonstrated by Mr. Von Hasseln. And I think most reasonable people would be ‘inclined’ (your words, not mine) to believe numbers backed by research that’s laid out and from which some conclusions can be drawn. That’s not to say the research is perfect; but to wholly discount them shows a serious act of ignorance on your part. And whether or not you choose to believe these numbers and those conclusions is another story; but you aren’t allowed to call them as being wrong without something to counter them and then adding ‘I’m too busy to tell you why.’
        So the onus is on you to explain why these numbers are wrong. You made the claim, show your reasoning. Anything else is simply lazy.

      • Rob Millan says:

        I haven’t given any numbers. I’m supporting the research that’s already been done. Not sure I would have gone so far as to factor in the gas in the car tank, but you can’t ignore everything else. And it’s a lot better of an analysis than simply saying ‘nope, you’re wrong, won’t work.’

  4. Karl Baia says:

    I see no statistics or “homework” Roberto. $60,000 for a home is way off the mark. I’d love to see that number proven. It’s that simple.
    You say prove myself when I call the number incorrect. I say prove the number you have already given.

  5. Karl Baia says:

    Oh alright guys. Quick look. Average two family home is 100 tons of debris. Mosa non-hazardous fee 64.00 per ton. $6,400. Factor in friable material for some waste at a higher rate. What’s the rate $100.00 a ton? Factor in removing the asbestos. County team or private removal? Factor in knocking it down. One way or the other it doesn’t come nearly to $60,000. Why does Fulton county knock them down for an average of 14-15 thousand dollars a home?

  6. The real cost of blight includes approximately $22,000 per structure/yr. in costs associated with code enforcement (investigations, NOV’s/postings, records generation/management, return visits, administrative activities, legal costs, mailings, court time, securing buildings, property maintenance, etc.) and an average of $38K in demolition (notifications, air monitoring, tipping fees, labor.) That’s where Robert’s number comes from, which has been generated from departmental analysis in the Cities of Amsterdam and Schenectady. The number is not fantasy.
    These expenses are a tremendous burden to local municipalities, especially when multiplied by the number of properties that are blighted. These buildings also impact property values of surrounding buildings and drive neighborhoods further into decline like spreading cancer. In most cases, when the property is demoed, we lose property tax revenue forever. These costs escalate into tens of millions of dollars very quickly.
    The proposal Mayor McCarthy and I are making to Secretary of State Perales tomorrow is quite exciting and can dramatically effect change at the local and state levels.

    • Karl Baia says:

      Well said Mayor. It’s not an easy problem to tackle and I’m excited to hear this proposal. I’m glad to see that you are making an effort on this front. Good job.

  7. diane says:

    Couple of points: Fulton Cty or Johnstown has there own landfill which is the biggest cost factor? And secondly, I do not think there is any shared service in the demolition of late, which becomes another factor. It was supposed to be with a joint asbestos team, just not sure that is functioning anymore.
    I remember when Alderman Wills presented the plan for an abatement of taxes for new construction and thought it was something to be considered in light of the high taxes. That might be something for the new council to look into, like we do not have enough already, but if it would help us in new construction on usable lots, it would be foolish not to investigate. I thought at the time, the city was willing but the county and school district said no….or were not interested?

    • Karl Baia says:

      When The Fulton County solid waste director made his presentation to the board while I was a member, he explained that he was able to knock the home down with the asbestos still in it. I think you may be right on some of the cost being lower because of their landfill. One way or the other, demolition is not an easy task and is costly. Either way, it’s ultimately necessary in many cases.

  8. Karl Baia says:

    So what did we figure out here? Not demolishing a home for 2 years costs more than actually demolishing a home. Hardly the demolitionist’s dismay Vince.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      I have no idea how you draw such a conclusion “Not demolishing a home for 2 years costs more than actually demolishing a home. ” What does that mean? What I’m figuring out is that you really don’t care about what the financials say , you’ll just pretend that demolition makes financial sense no matter how much it actually costs taxpayers. That’s why you never want to actually talk numbers because when you do, it’s clear that they undermine your positions.

      • Karl Baia says:

        What are you talking about Vince? By the Mayors own numbers that she just cited, an average cost of $22,000 per yr, per structure. An average of $38,000 for demolition. $22,000 + $22,000= $44,000. That equals more than $38,000. Where is your argument?

        • flippinamsterdam says:

          My argument is simple: city taxpayers pay for demolition and blight out of their tax dollars. Whether you demo in year 1 or year 2, city taxpayers still have to pay money for the demolition and associated expenses. You can’t claim like you do that city taxpayers see a positive return on demolition — they do not: they have to pay for it. My point is that demolition ALWAYS costs the taxpayers hard dollars and if you did not have to demolish stuff, but rehabbed and repurposed, taxpayers might see positive returns. As a side point, I believe Mayor Thane’s numbers on the $22K include some costs associated with the demo itself. What you’re arguing is that city taxpayers ‘save’ money by demolition — you need just look at the dollars bonded for demolition to know that they are actually spending and losing money with each building demolished.

      • Karl Baia says:

        Vince, you get a yellow card for telling me I don’t care about the financials when I was clearly referring to the financials.

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