City’s Task: Find Right Bidders For Tax Auction

Crystal Surdyk, Jamestown development director, speaks with members of the City Council’s Housing Committee as Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller of the Chautauqua County Healthy Homes Coalition looks on. P-J photo by John Whittaker

Finding bidders on Jamestown properties available in the Chautauqua County Tax Foreclosure Auction is never a problem.

Finding the right bidders — that has been a tough nut for Jamestown officials to crack.

“Maybe the strategy is really strategic marketing of those properties to investors and developers and people we know are reputable,” said Crystal Surdyk, city development director, in response to a question from Councilman William Reynolds, R-Ward 5. “I think a blanket advertisement, our experience is investors, and I use that term very loosely, they know. They search. It’s what they do. They’ve got the algorithms. It’s always the people we don’t want purchasing those properties that are looking for them and are the first to get on the auction.”

The county’s tax auction will be held online from July 9 through July 22 with roughly 300 Jamestown properties available. Chautauqua County Land Bank officials will work with municipal officials, including Jamestown, to identify problem properties the local officials want to see renovated or demolished. Some of those properties will be removed from the auction for rehabilitation or demolition. Those that remain up for bid will have a list of code violations attached to them so purchasers know how much work has to be done in order for the properties to meet local codes,

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county has not hosted a tax foreclosure auction since 2019. The change to the online auction and the length of time since the last auction prompted Reynolds’ question.

“What we will do is we will work with the land bank to identify properties that would be good investments, that would be good for first-time homebuyers, that would be good for development,” Surdyk said. “If there’s a number of vacant parcels that are somewhat close together, maybe there’s a structure that could be demolished and maybe we could have a really nice, good-sized empty larger parcel. That’s kind of the strategy we have. The land bank is really the mechanism to pull those properties from the auction list for development purposes, for first-time homebuyers, for home rehab projects and that sort of thing. I think it’s a really good point and something we can look at further in terms of what that strategic marketing would be. I think it’s also one of those things where we have to be really careful about who is getting that message because the predators are already on top of it. They’re already out there and they’re already out there ready to outbid everybody.”

Marie Carruba, D-Ward 4 and Housing Committee chairwoman, told the story of a property near her Southwestern Independent Living Center office. Two people purchased the property with plans to renovate it, but found the list of work to fix the property quickly sapped their project budget. The property is now back on the auction block, Carrubba said. While there is a list of code violations, bidders don’t have access to the interior of a property, so they can be overwhelmed by the amount of work needed.

“It’s just repeating the cycle,” Carrubba said. “I thnk this is a start and we are lk at more ways we can perhaps PILOT (program) to get these homes out of this revolving door of delinquencies and code enforcement becoming a point of no return where the property is eventually condemned and demolished.”

Surdyk said the flip side of the coin are investors who don’t care about the work needed because they will do the bare minimum to get a house ready to be rented. She pointed to a future where the city has the right mix of programs in place so that the tax auction is less of a worry each year.

“Our goal is eventually get to a place where we don’t need the auction,” Surdyk said.


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