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OKC hopes to crackdown on vacant and abandoned buildings

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Leaders in Oklahoma City unveil plans to crackdown on the number of vacant and abandoned buildings in the city. Those buildings drag down property values and cost the city millions of dollars.

Right now there are more than 12,000 vacant homes and businesses in Oklahoma City. Low taxes and penalties allow those buildings to sit empty for years, sometimes even decades.

"It's extremely frustrating to see these places exist in the same state for 18 years," said Walter Jacques.

"The main reason buildings are vacant in Oklahoma City is because of the very low holding costs," said city planning director Russell Claus.

For example, the Walcourt building near downtown has been vacant for 37 years. The owner pays four cents a square foot in taxes. Neighbors pay 16 times that amount.

"The markets out of whack. These buildings are actually being incentivized to be vacant," said Claus.

To help solve the vacancy problems, the city council could soon set up a registry to track abandoned properties and levy some small administrative fees, but state lawmakers would have to sign off on increasing the financial burden of owning vacant properties to meet city costs.

"We're not taking away the right to have vacant properties.  We're just saying you have to pay the fair cost of that," said Claus.

"I think we really need to do this," said Shannon Rundell.

Shannon joined a number of neighborhood association leaders who think those changes are long overdue.

"The majority of people are suffering because of the very few," said Rundell.

It's not just an Oklahoma City issue. Some leaders from Tulsa were at the council meeting Tuesday. They too support lobbying the statehouse for changes.