City property auctions are long overdue

City property auctions are long overdue

The City Controller’s office recently released a performance audit of the Department of Finance, Treasurer’s Office Division which oversees sales of tax-delinquent (defined as owing more than $300 in back taxes for more than a year, not including current year taxes) and city-owned property.  This is the first audit of the division since 2011.

There are 44 recommendations, but Nos. 32, 33 and 34 involve a strategy to sell city-owned property through quarterly public auctions.  The goals would be to get the city “to sell its property for the greatest amount of money possible” and “help shrink inventory and get properties back on the tax rolls.” 

We would wholeheartedly agree.  In fact, our suggestion to hold auctions goes back many years, spanning three mayoral administrations:

  • In 2003 we wrote “The City could commit to auctioning off [a portion of property] over a two-year period…Idle parcels that [the city has] held for a period of over five years should immediately be auctioned off.”
  • In 2005 we wrote “We urge the mayor to take such an inventory of the City’s holdings and commit to auctioning off a portion each year.”
  • In 2009 we wrote “the mayor should begin packaging City owned properties and selling them at auction to developers.”

As of March 2019, city-owned properties offered for sale numbered 2,014 parcels, mostly vacant lots.  In 2017 and 2018 there were 236 city-owned parcels sold to the general public, netting just over $550,000.

Properties could move more expeditiously through a different method. In the division’s response to the audit there is mention of new strategies, so hopefully the auction recommendation would be part of those.