Tonawanda News

June 20, 2013

NT encourages converting rental homes into single-family units

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — With renters now constituting a third of the city's populace, North Tonawanda is moving to incentivize a housing program that officials believe will reverse the advent of multiple-unit housing. 

Called "deconversion" by members of the common council, the idea is centered around offering a $10,000 rebate for homeowners who change a multiple-unit dwelling back to a single family home — with an eye toward returning some of the city's grand mansions to their original states, many of which date back to the epoch of lumber barons whose presence helped to establish neighborhoods filled with architectural gems. 

The concept has been circulating through city governance for years, though Council President Rich Andres said he latched onto it as a means to amend an abundance of North Tonawanda homes that are increasingly being converted to rental units, according to recent census data. 

While renters are important in a municipality that has seen it populace shrink during the last several decades, Andres said too many of them can also add to blight and tear at the fabric of a neighborhood.  

Modeled after a similar plan in Rochester, the council will now attempt to solidify the concept in city law, with a public hearing on the matter set for July 2. The rebate programs would offer $1,000 a year for 10 years to those who "deconverted" their multi-unit homes to single family structures, with a particular focus on older sections of the city like Christiana and Goundry streets as well as the avenues. The program, however, will be available city-wide. 

City Attorney Shawn Nickerson said he formed the legalese after speaking with the city assessor, the common council and officials from Rochester. 

The city had first explored a one-time exemption before discovering that state law forbids it. The rebate program would evade those roadblocks and require both a building inspector and assessor to sign off on any work completed before payments are made. 

If approved after a public comment period, oversight would come directly from the city clerk-treasurer's office. 

"Many of these homes have been sliced up into units," Nickerson said. "The concept has been to make an incentive for property owners to convert those houses (back into single-family dwellings). We were finally able to find a mechanism for that concept. The legislation has been given to the council." 

Andres said he believes the measure would reduce transient neighborhoods and encourage homeowners to live in them rather than split them up and rent them out. 

"We're looking to encourage homeownership," he said. "I think it shows vision, I think it shows that we're trying to improve the city. Nobody is going to be forced into it." 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.