New Jersey’s capital city is turning to vacant and condemned property sales to shore up its budget amid a pandemic that has pushed crime up and tax collections down in Trenton.
Yesterday, the city auctioned off 50 properties, each of which was sold, to draw in a total of nearly $4.2 million.
“They do no good in our inventory because they don’t pay property taxes, but last year’s auction garnered 3 million, and the year before less than two,” Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said. “We’re exceeding expectations every year, and this year we did a virtual one. We had over 300 registered persons on the virtual auction.”
The money is significant in a city with an annual budget of $221 million.
This year’s auction — Gusciora said there may be another soon — also saw one family buy a home they were renting from a fraudulent landlord.
“That’s another problem,” the mayor said. “Not only do we have squatters, but we have squatter landlords that break into the houses, ostensibly fix them up and rent them out but they don’t own the properties.”
But the family bought that home, and the mayor is hoping to secure them a mortgage through the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
The properties — Trenton has more than 1,000 such buildings, Gusciora said — come to the city’s possession through vacant housing ordinances and foreclosures.
Such ordinances allow local governments to take control of abandoned or blighted properties that can serve as magnets for crime, remediate them and sell them.
The money from such sales won’t replace state aid the city receives for government buildings, many in the heart of the city’s downtown, that do not pay property taxes, but it’s a significant chunk of even that.
“The most you got in direct capital city aid was under Gov. Corzine. That was 37 million. The first year of Chris Christie went down to 6 million, and now we’re back up to 18,” Gusciora said. “Every dollar counts in an urban city budget.”
It’s particularly helpful for a city that has faced no shortage of struggles during the pandemic.
The city set a new record for homicides this year. A fatal shooting in North Trenton on Tuesday was the 40th in the capital this year. The previous record of 37 homicides was broken last month.
“There are a lot of challenges. We’re dealing with the same challenges across urban America, spikes in crime and people not paying their water bills, late on taxes and the like,” Gusciora said. “These auctions really help our bottom line.”