New laws allow Miss. cities to get rid of abandoned property

Published 7:32 pm Friday, July 6, 2007

Two new state laws relax the rules local governments in Mississippi use to get rid of abandoned property.

Both laws took effect July 1.

One law allows cities to sell or lease property taken for tax delinquencies or declared blighted for less than market value. Another law allows counties to sell or lease blighted property to private developers for less than fair market value.

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“It gives us leeway to sell it for $1 or give it away,” said Jimmy Heidel, an economic development consultant for Jackson.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said the laws give local governments an incentive for developers and a chance to return abandoned land to the tax rolls.

Before the new laws, cities and counties could only give land for less than fair market value to churches and nonprofits, Horhn said.

“More often than not, churches and nonprofits are not the ones doing the major development,” said Horhn, who sees areas of west Jackson and downtown benefiting.

Under previous law, selling blighted property was difficult, and interested developers had no guarantee they would be the winning bid. Local governments took the average value of three appraisals, and advertised the sale in the newspaper, Heidel said.

Heidel wants the new laws to spur affordable housing developments, especially neighborhoods for middle-class families.

The new laws are good incentives for redevelopment as long as the policy is not abused, said Jackson developer and attorney David Watkins.

“If you want this as a political spoils system, it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Cities and counties acquire property when owners stop paying taxes, and no one buys the lot at a tax sale, said Rep. John Reeves, R-Jackson. He sponsored House Bill 1150 giving cities such authority.

Often properties are packed with liens from unpaid taxes and cleaning blighted lots make the price undesirable for investors, he said. The new laws allow those liens to be forgiven.