To the average person, the workings of government can appear mysterious and bizarre. That strangeness may be why taxpayers can grow suspicious of their elected officials. For example, when a county sells land to an individual for $1, some might wonder. Is something going on under the table?
No. The government sells property for a song for good reasons. For example, some plots are too small to build on. Turning it over to an adjacent owner for $1 makes sense. The buyer gets a buffer to his or her property. The County gets a bit more in taxes and is no longer obligated to mow the weeds on the vacant parcel. Believe it or not, sending public servants hither and yawn to mow grass is a big expense to the taxpayer.
Sometimes, an abandoned property is so derelict, even the rats have moved out. If someone good with a hammer and saw is willing deal, the county says “good riddance,” and waits for the improvements to raise the value. Good for the county. Good for the buyer. And good for the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, as writer Rachel Monroe explains, some buyers make the neighborhood worse. These are absentee landlords who plan to do nothing to the property but hold on to it in the hope land values will go up. Or, they imagine a developer will come along who wants to build a supermarket on the location. Until that happens, these speculators may squeeze income from the property by renting it to undocumented workers, people won’t complain if the heat goes off or the toilet doesn’t flush. (“Gone Baby Gone,” by Rachel Monroe, New Republic, October 2017, pg. 36.) These buyers may live in Hong Kong, Dubai or other foreign climes. They gamble on the future, scooping up derelict properties in large numbers, the way you and I might buy beads. They are speculators who care nothing for the neighborhoods they degrade by the neglect of their holdings.
Unfortunately, government can’t discriminate against a buyer based upon that buyer’s intent. But given its druthers, the county will sell a property for a $1 to a local with plans to make improvements, considering it to be the highest and best use for the community. So, on behalf of local officials, I wish to point out sometimes there is a method to their madness.