This letter is in response to articles entitled “Buying property in Mount Vernon” and “American Dream Auction” by Mayor Thomas that appeared in the online edition of the Mount Vernon Inquirer of September 16, 2016. The Mount Vernon City Charter states “The Real Estate Committee is charged with the responsibility of negotiating for the purchase, listing, advertising, and marketing of city-owned properties not needed for public use.” Properties foreclosed by the city of Mount Vernon are usually sold at auction following approvals by the Real Estate Committee, the City Council and the Board of Estimate and Contract. Properties may also be sold to abutters based on the same approval process.
The main objective of the Comptroller’s Office as it relates to foreclosures is to try to prevent homeowners from losing their homes to the city in the first place by negotiating payment plans that are aimed at reducing the risk of the loss of property. The Comptroller’s Office is currently working with approximately thirty homeowners to avoid foreclosure of their homes.
At a public auction which takes place approximately every two years, members of the public are allowed to bid on city-owned properties. This public auction provides a process that is fair and equitable. A list of these city-owned properties is advertised in a timely manner, in the public media, prior to the auction. I believe a periodic public auction of city-owned properties serves in the best interest of the City of Mount Vernon, its residents and its businesses.
An article that appeared in the online edition of the Inquirer apparently indicated that the general public could purchase properties in Mount Vernon at deep discounts with prices as low as $5,000.00. This statement lacks credibility and is false and misleading. It is reminiscent of the many scams perpetuated on the most vulnerable members of our community. Scams such as these typically result in intervention by law enforcement professionals and the court system.
The idea put forward by the mayor to sell city-owned property for $5,000.00 if done, may have the effect of dramatically reducing the property value of every home in the City of Mount Vernon. Imagine a city-owned property being sold for $5,000.00 in a neighborhood where residents bought their homes for $400,000.00. Their property values may drop precipitously as a result of a home being sold for $5,000.00 in that neighborhood. This can also result in property owners applying to reduce their property taxes based on the $5,000.00 house assessed valuation.
On March 29, 2016, Mayor Thomas as a member of the Board of Estimate and Contract voted to approve the sale of city-owned foreclosed properties by public auction. These foreclosed properties were sold at an auction on April 27, 2016, with the blessing of Mayor Thomas. The mayor is now seeking to change this fair and unbiased process. What changed? Is this plan a thinly-veiled attempt to repay campaign debts owed to a select few by setting aside foreclosed property for their exclusive purchase?
Maureen Walker, CPA
Member of The Real Estate Committee