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Ogdensburg Council moves to clean up housing program

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Some land mines hidden within the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program were defused Tuesday night.

The City Council voted to revise the program’s rules, giving the council more oversight on property sales and bringing it more in line with Ogdensburg’s charter. The sale of program properties will now have to be approved by three-quarters of the city council before a purchase agreement can be signed by the city manager.

“This is the end product of discussions we had about the progress we would use to dispose of property in this program,” said Philip A. Cosmo, interim city manager. Mr. Cosmo said staff had discussed the revisions to try to keep them in line with the state and federal guidelines of the program.

Last year, council members were upset to find former City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra had entered into contracts to sell program houses before the sales were reviewed or approved by the council.

“It looks like we have that problem ironed out now,” said Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle. “I was thinking we should be out of the program.

Section C-17 of Ogdensburg’s charter requires that a super majority of the council approve all property sales.

Mr. Skamperle pointed out that the section conflicted with state Real Property Law, which only requires a majority of the local governing body approve a sale.

“You can be stricter, but not less restrictive than state law,” said Mayor William D. Nelson.

The revisions keep in place a lottery program that chooses which potential buyer has the first opportunity to purchase a house renovated by the program. The potential buyers are drawn from a pool of people who meet standards for family size, income and first-time home buyer education.

Andrea L. Smith, interim city planner, said prospective buyers would be required to make a deposit when a purchase offer was signed.

“The changes do state that buyers will be asked to bring $2,000 to the table,” she said.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program is a vestige of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act designed to renovate derelict homes using grant money and then sell them at reduced-cost to low and moderate income families.

The program ended up causing big trouble in the Maple City. After thousands of dollars were used to renovate deteriorating houses in the city, it was revealed that a family had lived rent- and tax-free for three years in one house.

Later, problems with incomplete repairs, property selection and the sale of the houses arose. Those issues led to the resignation of one city official and played a role in the firing of another.

More than a year later, city leaders are still trying to set the program aright.

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