Asbestos Regulations at Center of New York’s Housing Surplus Problem
Excess housing is a problem in New York, and local officials are attributing part of the issue to the state’s asbestos regulations.
Regulations and proportionally-high costs are slowing down the demolition process for countless vacant properties that need to be destroyed, according to some.
Jamestown, New York, is one of the cities feeling these effects of the regulations. The city suffered from drastic population decrease, leaving asbestos-contaminated houses that were once needed, now unfilled and in need of demolition.
State regulations have been set on asbestos and the handling of the toxic substance because exposure to asbestos causes multiple diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques. Many of these diseases won’t manifest in the human body until decades after initial exposure.
On Wednesday, one house among a long list of other properties was demolished. City development director Steve Centi explains the burden as one that stems from houses built during a time when asbestos use was widespread and the population warranted the properties. Now, both of these factors are not the case.
“We have issues relating to older housing stock which was built in a point in time when the population was larger,” said Centi.
“The population has since declined, so we have a surplus of units.”
According to Centi, this population reduction can be found throughout the state, posing a demolition issue for all local officials in the state aiming to eliminate asbestos-contaminated homes.
Asbestos to Blame
Asbestos was widely used throughout much of the 1900s and became less frequent throughout the 1980s and subsequent decades. Not banned, the toxic substance is still found in consumer products and commercial materials in extremely small quantities.
In order for officials like Centi to authorize a demolition, the property owner must be notified and taken to court to receive a court order for a demolition, in most cases when the homeowner cannot afford the demolition.
Then, asbestos must be identified within the property and removed. This requires an asbestos professional to test for the presence of asbestos, prepare for abatement, and then perform the proper removal. This process is not something that happens overnight.
State regulations require that asbestos be ‘completely removed before demolition.”
Furthermore, costs associated with the actual demolition puts the city in a tough financial position. According to Centi, the average total cost associated with a residential demolition in New York is nearly $23,000.
For perspective, neighboring Pennsylvania’s regulations allow the same demolition to occur for $7,100.
“They can demolish three houses to our one,” Centi said.
The city’s demolition fund, which includes budgeted funds, grant money and taxpayer revenue, will equate to $393,644 for 2012. Of the 30 listed properties that the state deems requiring demolition, the funds will allow for 12 to 15 demolitions.
Improving the Situation
Critics of the state’s asbestos regulations believe that reforming the standards and increasing state funding to the cities will help local officials better manage this housing issue.
“We’d like to see the state relax the requirements, and we’d like to see the state provide funding that would allow us to do demolitions to get rid of this excess stock,” Centi said.
“I think you could apply that same type of methodology to any other municipality within the state of New York or probably in the whole North East that has to deal with these same issues.”