Hennepin County takes green housing a big step forward
Every city has them — empty boarded houses, vacant, unkempt lots and deteriorating businesses. They are eyesores to the community, blights on neighborhoods and the forerunner of community decay.
Every year, thousands of property owners in Minnesota become tax-delinquent and abandon their properties. The county works diligently as a “compassionate tax collector” to help the former owners regain their properties by paying back taxes. Almost half of the properties are repurchased by their former owners. If that is not possible, local governments (counties or cities) take over the property and work with redevelopment nonprofits or neighborhoods to determine the best use — usually affordable housing. Properties that are not repurchased or used by local governments for adult foster care in Hennepin County are either sold at public auction or conveyed to nonprofit, community land trusts for use as affordable housing.
When the county first began acquiring and selling delinquent properties, many were purchased by individuals who made minimal repairs, rented and then abandoned them when they were not profitable. Sometimes they were resold to unsuspecting buyers, who found they had a potentially dangerous or substandard building. Either way, the properties often were abandoned and forfeited again.
In 1996, Hennepin County’s Taxpayer Services Department decided to try something different: marketing to a completely different kind of buyer. The county began rehabilitating properties and auctioning them in mint condition to buyers who would become homeowners, live in the neighborhoods and return the property to the tax rolls. Since the county adopted the strategy:
- Urban neighborhoods are being revitalized.
- More than 30 homes have been remodeled, landscaped and sold to taxpayers.
- More than half of the homes are now owner-occupied. Their combined market value has risen 84 percent over the past few years.
- Revenue from the sale of the buildings pays for all past-due taxes and rehab costs, with any profits returned to the taxpayers — 40 percent to the county, 40 percent to the school districts, and 20 percent to the cities.
The county’s initial challenge was to convert the homes with deteriorating and obsolete characteristics into healthier, updated, more energy-efficient and maintenance-free residences where young families could grow and flourish. In most instances, the homes became models for other neighbors, who made similar improvements to their homes.
Hennepin County recently has introduced another element to the process. The homes are being rehabilitated with green, recycled, energy-efficient and sustainable products and construction methods. The following is a list of some of the amenities built into the county’s most recent project:
- Long-life, low-petroleum asphalt shingles
- Formaldehyde-free lumber
- Low-VOC paints and stains
- Vinyl-clad Energy Star windows
- Solid-core, insulated steel entry doors
- Energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling
- High-efficiency water heaters and plumbing
- Energy Star appliances and electrical fixtures
- R21 wall insulation and R50 attic insulation
- Landscaping with rain gardens and permeable surfaces.
As a result, the homes remain very low maintenance and have very low impact on the environment, as well as significant cost savings that are permanently built into the utility costs.
Harold Troup is a senior property management specialist for the Hennepin County, Minn., Taxpayer Services Department, Tax-Forfeit and Property Revenue Section.