Elmwood Place: Replacing Blight with Pride

Shirley and Joe Anneken have been married for the past 40 years and have lived in the same house for nearly 30 years.  They’ve put down roots in Elmwood Place, having raised two children over the course of that time, now with five grandchildren as well.

“I have a lot of great memories of raising our kids in this neighborhood,” said Joe Anneken. “When we moved into our home, we were the youngest on the street; it’s hard to believe we are now an “old grumpy couple” on the street,” he jokes.

Over the years, Joe and Shirley always got along well with their neighbors, happy to see that most took the same pride in ownership and sense of community.  That’s why when a home next door to the Annekens began to fall in disrepair, they became concerned.

“We watched the house next door fall into decline.  At first, we tried to keep up with what we could.  Eventually, the neglect became too much of an eyesore.  That’s when we put up a privacy fence,” said Joe.

The Annekens were frustrated by the blighted property so close to their home, which they have lovingly cared for and maintained for the past three decades.  So when the home was eventually torn down, they saw an opportunity to turn a vacant lot into something more.

“In 2015, I reached out to the Port Authority and submitted a purchase application, but the process took a while and did not become available until early 2017 (after the structure was razed),” said Joe Anneken. “Once we reapplied in April of this year, it took about three or four months to get a release and finalize sale.”

Through the Lot to Yard program, homeowners like the Annekens have the opportunity to purchase vacant lots, adjacent to their properties for a nominal cost (in this case, $200.00).

“I have the great privilege of working with so many different families and individuals as a part of this program.  Stabilizing a property is always our first preference, because no one wants to see homes taken down.  In this case, our housing team determined that it wasn’t financially feasible to stabilize this home,” said Megan Meyer, Port Authority Attorney, responsible for acquiring land donations as well as facilitating sales of properties and land.

“Meeting folks like Joe and Shirley, who really make up the heart of our communities, is the best part of my job.  The Lot to Yard program gives people a chance to reinvest in their neighborhood and take pride in their home ownership, and it returns a property that was blighted and tax delinquent to the county tax rolls. To sell a lot under the Lot to Yard program, we have to acquire the house, evaluate its condition, demolish it, comply with all the laws surrounding that process, and review applications we receive for it, which takes a lot of time and work, especially when you realize the Landbank owns over 700 of these properties. But when I talk to the people who will take care of these lots for years to come, it’s completely worth it.”

“All of the people I have worked with at the Port Authority were prompt and professional and nice to work with,” Joe Anneken said.  “Looking at what I see the Port doing for us and other communities is a blessing.”

As a longtime resident of Elmwood Place, Joe is vested in making a difference and improving his community.  He has been on the Village council for the past four years and plans to run for another term in November.  During his tenure, he has witnessed firsthand some of the financial challenges municipalities like Elmwood Place face, “Lack of funds is definitely the largest obstacle for Elmwood Place and other small municipalities.  One of our most significant accomplishments, although financially challenging, has been to invest in our police department, with the aim to reduce the criminal element in the neighborhood and to help encourage tax paying businesses to consider our community.  We’re pleased with the early results, but there is always more to do.”