Niagara Falls Community Development Responds to Memorial Parkway Allegations

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By: Director of Community Development, Seth Piccirillo

Information about 424 Memorial Parkway: We appreciate the interest into the sale of this property. From day one, we have tried to give the community what they are looking for.In fact, we have went above and beyond. It has been a complicated process, but as always, we remain committed to seeing this house renovated

This building became city owned because of tax foreclosure. At the request of the Memorial Park Block Club, the property was pulled from the standard IN REM tax foreclosure auction in 2017. On April 9, 2017, Niagara Falls Community Development (NFCD) advertised a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the purchase and renovation of this property and tax foreclosed properties, with proposals due back to CD on May 26, 2017.
We received two proposals – Ryan Cali and Matthew Melcher (Proposal 1): $1,000 and Mark, Michael and Matthew Valle (Valle Group): $7,500 (Proposal 2).
NFCD selected Proposal 2 based on strength of proposal and renovation background. We presented that recommendation to the Niagara Falls Planning Board on June 21, 2017. Members of the community including both parties in the current disagreement, residents of Memorial Parkway, and Ms. Cali all attended that meeting to advocate for Proposal 2. The main argument was that Proposal 2 would renovate the home and be prime occupants. Proposal 1 planned to renovate the home as a rental property.

NFCD prioritizes home ownership. We also respond to public input, as proven by the fact that we released the RFP. Residents of the neighborhood were advocating for Proposal 1. NFCD stated that we had concerns about their ability to complete the renovation, because of the size and scope. NFCD is very familiar with the property and home renovations in general. We knew this was a big job. We knew Proposal 2 had more applicable experience. Stating these opinions, we still tabled the item, in response to neighborhood advocacy. More conversations were had with both proposers and residents. NFCD honored their opinion, and the property was sold to Proposal 1, via planning board approval and then city council approval on July 3, 2017.

The new owners started to clean out of the property soon after the closing and begin renovations. The taxes were paid. During that year it became clear that the renovation was more difficult than expected. There were also personal issues that stopped the renovation and the ability to own the property as originally proposed. Per the sales agreement with the city, the one year period to renovate the home ended in August 2018.

As stated above, NFCD had concerns about the renovations before the sale happen. But, we also work hard to be helpful to people especially when personal hardships occur. Based on what we knew of the situation, and precedent described below, we did not object to Proposal 1 to contact potential buyers, as long as that purchaser would agree to live in the house as prime occupant, per an agreement approved by the Niagara Falls City Council. Proposal 1 had bought the house, paid the taxes and started renovation work. We knew that all of this was creating a financial hardship, and wanted to help find a solution for the renovation and the purchasers.

There is a reverter clause in RFP and home ownership auction house contracts. However, we have made specific arraignments in the past, in the face of undue hardship. In our opinion, Proposal 1 was experiencing an undue hardship. If the purchaser completely walked away from the property, we would have executed the reverter clause and then placed the home in the 2019 home ownership auction, as the neighborhood clearly prioritized home ownership during the planning board process. But this was a different case. We were also being contacted by several parties that wanted to create a long term or short term rental there. In my opinion, a prime occupant sale would be the best case scenarios.

NFCD, through the home ownership auction has dealt with similar situations in the past. In 2016, a man bought a Ferry Avenue home at home ownership auction with his fiance. His fiance died unexpectedly months later. He did not live in Niagara Falls originally, and was going through understandably emotional stress. NFCD bought the house back from him to relieve the burden, and the home was resold at the 2018 home ownership auction.

In 2016, a man purchased a Mckoon Avenue home at the home ownership auction. A year later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We allowed him to sell the property over to a family member, so that the renovation could be completed. He later passed away.

We also auctioned a house that was clearly advertised to have the former owner living in it, illegally. The purchaser knew that an eviction would be needed. When she did not want to do this, and raised objections, she was refunded.

In the past six years we have sold over 50 houses via home ownership auction or RFP and executed over 450 home ownership renovations and first time home buyer grants. That number represents thousands of pages of sales and contractor agreements. In a total four situations, we recognized hardships that we knew were putting the purchasers in a difficult situation. We stand by our success rate and we stand by our willingness to help people get through stressful renovation situations. Why? Because we know how hard it is to renovate a vacant house and we do not want to bankrupt people in the process.

We have met with all parties involved several times. We will continue to clarify and get through this process. We respect the Memorial Block Club’s opinion, but no processes were violated. The block club also has all of this information, as it was sent to them months ago. We will also continue to pursue RFP and home ownership auction sales and appreciate this level of scrutiny. The alternative is the confusing IN REM auction process. More attention on these types of sales is a good thing. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly via this page or seth.piccirillo@niagarafallsny.gov.

 

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