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Cities Move to Eliminate Vacant Lots

Trash strewn lots with abandoned vehicles like this lot in Detroit present many safety issues for cities, and with the number of foreclosures increasing, cities are implementing programs to avoid similar scenes in their neighborhoods.

As the number of foreclosures increase in the United States, municipalities are faced with more vacant homes, which in turn lead to more safety and security issues.

Detroit, Mich., a city with a long history of abandoned buildings, recently saw the sale of an abandoned home for the meager price of one dollar. The home sold in November 2006 for $65,000 but was foreclosed on one year later. Sitting vacant, the home's siding was stripped, as well as the fencing, doors and plumbing.

Rather than leaving these abandoned homes for squatters and vandals, some cities are turning these properties into parks, gardens and lots for neighbors to use to improve their properties.

Flint, Michigan -- a blue-collar city located about an hour's drive northwest of Detroit -- is a member of a land bank that has picked up 4,500 properties in six years. The bank acquires and demolishes homes, sometimes to create parks and larger yards for neighbors. In addition, the bank assists homeowners on the verge of foreclosure, protects renters whose homes are going into foreclosure and rehabilitates vacant homes for rent or sale.

The city of Shaker Heights, Ohio has begun a program to rid itself of abandoned properties. The city recently took one house off the hands of a bank and bought eight others from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for $1 each.

Instead of rehabbing the homes, which is expensive, and then trying to sell them in a depressed housing market, the Shaker Heights is demolishing them and giving adjacent landowners the opportunity to buy the lots to increase the size of their yards. Under this program, buyers must agree to improve or build on the land, by using it for a playground, gazebo, garden or deck. For property owners who choose not to buy and develop the land, Shaker Heights will continue to maintain the landscaping on the lots.

Another Rust Belt city -- Youngstown, Ohio -- is thinking long term in its battle against vacant property. The city has created a multiyear plan for the city that spells out where government reinvestment is warranted in the city and where it isn't. The population is about half of what it was 40 years ago, and some neighborhoods have few residents. Eventually, some streets will be closed, houses will be razed and green spaces created.

On the heels of a recent report that July Foreclosures are up a whopping 55 percent over the same period last year and eight percent from June 2008, more programs around the country will undoubtedly be implemented to combat the growing problem of vacant lots.

Sources: Detroit News, The Columbus Dispatch

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December 10, 2019, 7:06 pm PDT

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