DeKalb continues with foreclosure registry

DeKalb County will spend $150,500 over the next two months on five workers whose main task is to maintain a list of foreclosed properties -- but not increase code inspections on them.

Tuesday’s 5-2 vote to create a budget for DeKalb's foreclosure registry until the end of the year also sets aside until 2012 the remaining $406,000 raised through the fee creditors pay to get on the list.

Not until then will the county consider using the money to increase inspections or make other changes that could make sure creditors are maintaining properties, the initial goal of the registry when DeKalb launched it in October 2010.

“We have been trying to evaluate the properties as needed, but this is still a work in progress,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader, who sponsored the budget and funding for five jobs. “We expect to recommend changes for more monitoring as we move forward.”

DeKalb had more than 18,000 foreclosure filings last year, the third-highest number in Georgia, when it launched the foreclosure registry. The intent was to make financial institutions maintain the properties and prevent blight.

Several thousand property owners have since registered and paid the $175 fee, raising more than $557,000 so far.

The county hired code enforcement officers and two records technicians and a registry manager, using federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program money.

Those funds expired this month, creating the need to set up a budget so those positions are paid from the registry fees.

Salaries alone will cost up to $267,564. All but the manager’s job, which pays up to $79,000, are limited to one year, though. The positions are to exist only as long as money keeps coming in.

Still, even supporters of the registry admit the county has not taken code enforcement action on any property on the list. Detractors, including the Atlanta Board of Realtors, argue that proves the registry is not needed, since responsible property owners are more likely to register as well as maintain their homes.

Commissioners Elaine Boyer and Kathie Gannon dissented in Tuesday’s vote, signaling that they agree at least in part with critics.

“It’s not meeting the needs of the community and the neighborhoods the way it was envisioned,” Gannon said. “The only time one of these properties is even inspected is the same way every other is, if we get a call complaining and we go out.”

The commission expects to revisit its registry requirements in the next few months, including mandating what code enforcement work is needed on foreclosed properties.

Detailed duties also would have been required under legislation proposed by a state lawmaker from DeKalb in this year’s legislative session. The proposal, which also limited fees for registries to $100, is to come up again next year.

“For us to rely on the state is very risky,” said Larry Johnson, the commission’s presiding officer. “We don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach, but we have to do something.”