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CITY URGED TO WIDEN HOUSING REDEVELOPMENT OPTIONS

City officials, led by Comptroller Joel A. Giambra, want modifications of the city's policy on neighborhood housing development.

More than 1,000 new single-family units have been built -- mostly on scattered lots -- in parts of the city over the last decade. But far less attention has been paid to rehabilitating viable existing structures that the city seized and no attention is paid to building new two-family houses, Giambra said.

Giambra, his staff and city building inspectors met Wednesday with the Common Council's Community Development Committee to address issues detailed in a February report released by Giambra on neighborhood housing problems.

Among them is the growing list of buildings and houses, now owned by the city, that are being addressed under the city's current policy on new home construction, Giambra said. Most are 30-foot lots, which, under current zoning ordinance requirements, are too small to build on.

Council Member at Large Barbra A. Kavanaugh argued against Giambra's recommendation for a zoning ordinance amendment after Paul W. Mielcarek, assistant director of city building inspectors, insisted that new houses constructed on 30-foot lots without driveways or back yards would be difficult to sell.

Ms. Kavanaugh said the city first needs to seek proposals from developers willing to devise a floor plan that would be suitable for new homes constructed on 30-foot lots and see if there is a market for such properties.

Giambra also proposed that the city modify its redevelopment strategy to include the construction of two-family houses and thereby increase homeownership opportunities for young families who may lack the income to buy a new single-family home.

Mielcarek suggested the city could step up its housing rehabilitation program by using supervised Erie County Workfare clients to gut viable vacant houses in preparation for interior renovation work by local contractors. Such a program, Mielcarek said, would reduce the cost of rehabilitating such structures.

Giambra added that such a program could create small business and job opportunities for minorities as well.

Giambra noted that some of the recommended changes in his report are already under way, such as how to deal with properties in tax foreclosure. Unlike previous years, the city did not automatically take title to all the properties that went unpurchased at last week's tax foreclosure sale, which now allows the city to go after owners.

"Now we can go in with a team . . . we can aggressively go after owners for relief . . . . We can stop the bleeding . . . we can go after owners who have found a very convenient way of dumping them on the city. We can turn them (owners) over to collection agencies," Giambra said.

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