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Restoring Properties, Rebuilding Communities

As foreclosure rates have escalated in the wake of the housing collapse, a new crisis looms for American cities and towns: a glut of vacant properties. Once a sign of urban blight, empty lots and abandoned homes and buildings now mark the landscape of neighborhoods in rural and suburban areas as well, affecting property values and offering a haven for crime.

A new study from the Center for Community Progress compiles statistics from around the country to give a sense of the scale of the problem: homeowner vacancy rates near 3 percent and rental vacancies over 10 percent. That’s 4.7 million vacant residential properties, or one in every 28 dwellings.

Until now, vacant properties have been an almost exclusively local concern, dealt with by city inspectors and tax officials on a building-by-building basis. The report is titled Restoring Properties, Rebuilding Communities: Transforming Vacant Properties in Today’s America, and offers a systemic look at the problem and evaluates actions that can be taken by federal, state and local governments, as well as community organizations, private foundations and real estate developers to stem the tide of increasing vacancy rates and meet the challenges presented by already vacant properties.

The report’s authors point to new initiatives such as the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program and Partnership for Sustainable Communities, as well as public-private partnerships at the state and local levels, such as the Minnesota Foreclosure Partners Council and the Detroit Vacant Property Campaign, as offering a way forward for those on the front-lines of the crisis.

“We need to focus on vacant and abandoned properties not just as a problem, but as a resource,” said Dan Kildee, president of the Center for Community Progress, “Vacant houses can be turned back into homes. Obsolete factories can become incubators for emerging technologies. Even older cities that are losing population can maintain strong downtowns and neighborhoods and also replace blighted areas with green space.”

The Restoring Properties report examines programs undertaken in hard-hit locales such as Flint, Mich., Baltimore, Md., and Cleveland, Ohio, where government leaders, community activists, nonprofit leaders, and academics from across the country will gather this week to discuss the issue at the third national Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference.


For a hard copy of the report, contact Community Progress »