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Louisville looking to revive abandoned homes, neighborhoods through new state law

A conservatorship allows cities to ask the courts to approve a third-party contractor to renovate abandoned properties.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville faces an ongoing housing crisis, including hundreds of abandoned properties in need of repair and renovation.

Laura Grabowski, Director of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development, said a new state law took effect in January and gave them a new tool to rehab properties.

“Conservatorship is essentially for houses what guardianship is for people," she said. 

Under conservatorship programs, the city can petition the court to assign a third party to renovate an abandoned and deteriorating property.

“We've lost a decent amount of our properties in our town and in historic neighborhoods to emergency demolition, the house that’s vacant for 20 years, there’s a hole in the roof, water gets in and it just deteriorates," Grabowski said. 

Grabowski said the goal is not to take properties from people. Instead, they want to save historic structures from demolition, when they have gone years without a proper owner or repairs. 

The conservators would be in charge of creating a plan for rehabilitation, drafting a timeline, securing funding and getting their plans approved by the court. 

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Grabowski said to start, the city will select one property and conservator. They'll follow the property through the entire process to make sure all stakeholders know how the system works. 

She said they'll likely pilot conservatorship with a building in West Louisville, hopefully, selected in the next week. 

“We of course think one is too many, but there are certain neighborhoods that have high concentrations and those are mostly in the western neighborhoods," she said of abandoned properties. 

Across the city, Grabowski said the city maintains but doesn't own, about 1500 abandoned properties, many of them empty lots. 

They have a variety of tools to get those properties into new hands, including foreclosure. But the process can take months. 

“It is part of an entire toolbox of things that can be used to address vacant and abandoned properties," Grabowski said of conservatorship. "It will be used sparingly and with the interest of the community in mind.” 

Grabowski said they will focus on historic homes. They want the buildings to be put to community use and expect potential conservators to fit the bill. 

"We are assuming these will be community-based organizations because this isn’t something that will be profitable," she said. "This is really people doing this with a community interest in mind." 

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Grabowski said in the long run, the program could help save buildings like the Samuel Plato house or Bourgard College of Music, both on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard. 

Since 2011, Grabowski said there have been positive changes to the city's abandoned property issues. Tools like the foreclosure program and the city's Landbank Authority allowed them to shorten the average foreclosure time on an abandoned property from nearly two years, to six to nine months. 

They've foreclosed on about 1,000 properties, and she said last year, the Landbank Authority sold around 130 properties, including lots. 

“Any tools we can have to work with vacant and abandoned properties will be helpful," she said. 

Grabowski said they'll start with one pilot home, and issue a public call for conservators. After taking the property through the entire process, they hope to find conservators for two or three other homes this year. 

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Contact reporter Grace McKenna at GMcKenna@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter.

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