As of Oct. 1, 2018, the city of Greensboro instituted a new program called Receivership. In actuality, very little is new about it. But saying “new” makes even the worst afflictions sound healthy. The program is a continuation of a currently state-run program with the same name. The public relations concept of the program is rather noble: Take old dilapidated houses and buildings whose owners have long neglected them, and give the properties to people who deserve it. While this all may sound well in good fiction, in reality, receivership can and will attack the fabric of Greensboro neighborhoods.
So what is receivership? Simply put, it is a code enforcement tool leveraged by municipalities, and it most prominently benefits contracting cronies. Previously, receivership was reserved for situation bankruptcy, corporate dissolution, and cases of incompetency. The program allows the municipality to petition a superior court judge for the right to hand off a citizen’s property – provided certain vague criteria are met. The city may then bequeath the property to a new owner.
What are these criteria you might ask? Vague. The city has listed some specifics but all under the general title of “nuisance per se.” Meaning if the city labels your property a nuisance, and you refuse to do anything about it, then they can take your property.
Surely a municipality can’t simply acquiesce any individual’s property simply because they desire it. In all actuality this is unlikely. Instead, only those whose properties reside in areas that are advantageous for new urban development in gentrification need be worried.
But what happens after the receiver gets your land? What are they entitled to do? Well, basically, any and all of the “necessary and customary powers.” This means that the new receiver gets almost all of the rights to which the building owner is entitled.
This means that they are allowed to demolish, repair, restore and sell the property if they deem fit. In the event a receiver moves to repair or restore a house, liens are placed on said property in the amount of repair costs. These liens are paramount in repayment, surpassing all other liens or mortgages on the property except, of course, taxes or money owed to the state or municipality. After all, a government willing to sacrifice the property of its citizenry would not want to miss its piece of the pie.
In addition to this, if a property is restored by a receiver, then said receiver is entitled to two years of landlording privileges over the property, extracting wealth that ought rightfully belong to the property owner. That’s potential income that could perhaps be extremely helpful to an individual who is unable to repair his home in the first place.
Lest you think this new policy will be undertaken by those who seek to restore old homes, save neighborhoods, and make the city of Greensboro a better place, hear this. The codes described above do not provide any assurance that a private company will not move in, apply for receivership status, invest heavily into a property, and then pay themselves with liens placed on said property. Those liens would have to be paid back by the property owner, an individual who, as covered above, is most likely not in a particularly salient economic position.
This radical corporatization is much like what happened to our charter school system in the United States. Private corporations were allowed to operate our charter schools on a for-profit budget. Through the process of cutting costs and lowering the quality of education, these companies were then able to use the extra money to increase administrative salaries. It’s a clear case of what can only be lobbying-incentivized policymaking.
Who is to say that a similar thing will not happen to these houses? Nothing is stopping a corporation from repeating the charter school strategy on the housing market. They would seek to sloppily gentrify whole neighborhoods all to leave the proper owner deeply in debt, creating slums out of once beautiful communities. This, it seems, is Greensboro’s answer to dilapidated infrastructure.