Jennifer R. Leonard and Alan Mallach
Community Progress wishes to thank Benjamin de la Peña and the Rockefeller
Foundation for generously supporting the writing and production of this publication.
Restoring Properties, Rebuilding Communities: Transforming Vacant Properties
in Today’s America was written by Jennifer Leonard/Community Progress and
Alan Mallach/Community Progress and The Brookings Institution, with additional writing
and research by Ben Capraro/MK Communications, Mara D’Angelo/Smart Growth
America, Sergio Ritacco/The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, and Joe Schilling/
The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. Special thanks to those whose additional
insights and editing improved the final product: the Community Progress team especially
Dan Kildee and Courtney Knox, Anthony Armstrong/Buffalo LISC, Danielle Bober/
Community Legal Resources, Michael Braverman/Baltimore Housing, Paul Brophy/
Brophy & Reilly LLC, Frank Ford/Neighborhood Progress, Inc., Jason Hessler/
Baltimore Housing, Marilyn Katz/MK Communications, LISC Community Safety Initiative,
Diane Silva Martinez/City of Dan Diego, Shamyle Nesfield/Community Legal Resources,
Stacy Pugh/Slavic Village Development, Lisa Schamess, Michael Schramm/Case
Western Reserve University, and Diane Sterner/Housing and Community Development
Network of New Jersey. Design and production by BLANK-Design Communications.
                                                              September 2010

2    Preface

5    Introduction

7    The Challenge and Opportunity
     9	   A	snapshot

15   Putting the Pieces Together:
     Understanding the Problem,
     Crafting the Solution
     15	 It’s	the	economy
     17	 The	municipal	fiscal	crisis	
     18	 Foreclosures:	compounding	a	complex	situation	
     20	 Laws	and	public	policies	make	a	difference

23   Progress and Challenges
     23	 Signs	of	progress
     29	 Are	new	ways	of	thinking	emerging?
     33	 A	new	federal	policy	climate

39   Framing a Policy Agenda for Vacant
     and Abandoned Properties
     39	 Recommendations
     40	 Ten	principles	to	guide	the	vacant	property	agenda

45   Conclusion
The Center for Community Progress was created

in 2010 to help local and state governments seize

the opportunity to reuse vacant and abandoned

properties for the economic and social benefit

of their communities. Including some of the

nation’s leading practitioners, policy architects,

and advocates, Community Progress is the

national resource for policy, information,

capacity building, training, and technical

assistance on the reuse and redevelopment of

vacant, abandoned, and problem properties.
Community	Progress	grew	out	of	two	organiza-           activity	are	shifting	across	America.	It	will	
tions	that	came	into	being	during	the	early	years	     require	reworking	state	and	local	laws	to	ensure	
of	the	past	decade,	the	National	Vacant	Properties	    that	municipalities	have	the	tools	they	need	to	
Campaign	and	the	Genesee	Institute,	which	             acquire,	manage,	and	reuse	land	and	buildings	
brought	public	attention	to	the	issue	of	vacant	       to	make	possible	the	quick	return	of	vacant	and	
and	problem	properties	and	demonstrated	that	          abandoned	properties	to	uses	that	benefit	the	
effective	public	and	private	action	can	have	a	        community.	This	report	sets	forth	a	series	of	
transformative	effect	on	the	problem.	                 principles,	and	outlines	the	specific	roles	that	
                                                       different	levels	of	government	and	different	
As	Community	Progress	starts	its	work,	this	paper	
                                                       private	sector	stakeholders	can	play,	in	making	
sums	up	the	experience	of	the	Campaign	and	
                                                       this	opportunity	a	reality.	
the	Institute	in	recent	years,	reflecting	our	under-
standing	of	the	many	factors	that	cause	properties	    The	Center	for	Community	Progress	stands		

to	become	vacant	and	abandoned,	and	putting	           ready	to	help	guide	policymakers	and	community	
forward	a	new	body	of	tools	and	policy	initiatives	    leaders,	practitioners,	and	developers,	in	their	
that	communities	can	use	to	return	vacant	and	         efforts	to	eradicate	vacancy	and	abandonment	

                                                                                                             Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
abandoned	properties	to	productive	use.	We	            and	forge	the	path	to	building	stronger,	healthier	
highlight	some	of	the	successful	efforts	of	commu-     American	communities.
nities	around	the	country,	and	show	how	they	fit	
into	a	larger,	comprehensive	approach.	

The	present	recession	and	foreclosure	crisis	
threaten	communities	with	rates	of	vacant	and	
abandoned	properties	many	have	never	seen	
before.	Our	experience	teaches	us,	though,	that	
bold,	swift	action	coupled	with	policy	reforms	
designed	to	further	the	long-term	health	of	
communities	can	turn	this	time	of	crisis	into	one	
of	opportunity.	Achieving	such	a	transformation	
will	require	collaboration	between	the	public	
and	private	sectors,	and	a	thorough	under-
standing	of	how	populations	and	economic	
Policymakers and community
leaders are committing
themselves to transforming
the way we intervene to
turn abandoned
properties into
vibrant places.
America’s	urban,	suburban,	and	rural	communities	have	struggled	for	decades	
with	vacant,	abandoned,	and	problem	properties.1	Today’s	environment	is	
unique,	however,	as	powerful	forces—most	notably	the	foreclosure	and	economic	
crises—threaten	to	undo	decades	of	growth,	development,	and	reinvestment		
in	our	communities.	

As	people	across	America	face	the	presence	           foreclosures	and	vacancy	in	the	immediate	future,	
of	boarded-up	homes	that	strip	properties	of	         we	can	point	to	proven	examples	of	success	in	
their	value	and	owners	of	their	equity,	play	near	    tackling	these	issues.	As	leaders	adopt	new	policies	
factories	that	loom	lifelessly	over	their	neighbor-   to	further	comprehensive	community	revitalization,	
hoods,	or	walk	by	vacant	storefronts	on	once-busy	    local	stakeholders	are	working	together	to	address	
commercial	streets,	policymakers	and	community	       their	problems,	and	build	strategies	capable	of	
leaders	are	slowly	committing	themselves	to		         leading	to	long-term	sustainable	change.	
transforming	the	way	we	intervene	to	turn	aban-
                                                      This	report	is	grounded	in	our	experience	working	
doned	properties	into	vibrant	places.	
                                                      throughout	the	country	with	nonprofit	organiza-
In	the	face	of	a	dramatically	changed	landscape,	     tions,	grassroots	leaders,	public	officials,	and	others	
they	are	starting	to	recognize	that	our	commu-        who	have	championed	comprehensive	solutions		
nities	will	not	thrive	if	we	continue	to	use	the	     to	vacant	property	challenges.	As	we	have	travelled	
strategies	of	the	past,	going	project	by	project,	    to	their	communities,	we	have	learned	from	them	
deal	by	deal.	To	stem	the	flow	of	abandonment,	       how	local	strategies	can	catalyze	change,	and	seen	
and	reverse	that	trend	in	order	to	use	tens	of	       how	their	efforts	can	transform	communities.		
thousands	of	properties	in	productive	ways,	every	    We	hope	through	this	report	to	encourage	all		
sector—the	public,	private,	and	“third”	(nonprofit	   those	concerned	with	this	issue	to	build	a	truly	
and	philanthropy)	sectors—will	have	to	play	a		       effective	agenda	to	turn	vacant,	abandoned,		
strategic	and	intentional	role	to	reshape	how	        and	problem	properties	into	productive	places	in	
we	deal	with	properties,	how	we	acquire	land,	        our	communities,	based	not	on	one-off	deal-
manage	it,	and	dispose	of	it	for	reuse.	              oriented	transactions,	but	on	true	systemic	reform.	
                                                      Let	us	make	sure	that	the	unique	moment		
While	indicators	point	to	continued	stress	in	the	
                                                      of	opportunity	that	we	have	today	is	not	wasted.
housing	market	and	continued	elevated	rates	of	
Behind every
vacant property
there is a story.
The trick is to find that story and
address the underlying issues.
The Challenge
                                       and Opportunity
Despite	isolated	successes	and	community	innovations,	vacant	and	underused	
properties	present	a	long-term	challenge	that	shows	no	sign	of	lessening.	Yet	with	
rare	exceptions,	both	governments	and	private	entities	have	approached	vacant	
and	abandoned	properties	as	a	case-by-case,	transactional	issue,	rather	than	
looked	at	the	underlying	systemic	issues	that	perpetuate	the	cycle	of	neglect.		
To	break	that	cycle,	we	must	first	understand	the	issue.	Success	will	depend	on		
our	understanding	of	what	vacant	and	abandoned	properties	are,	why	they		
become	vacant,	and	the	different	trends	that	affect	communities.	
Every	vacant	property	is	different.	As	San	Diego’s	         most	troublesome	because	they	may	require	
Chief	Deputy	City	Attorney,	Diane	Silva-Martinez,	          remediation	before	reuse.	
says,	“Behind	every	vacant	property	there	is	a	story.	
                                                            Not	all	vacant	and	abandoned	properties	are	
The	trick	is	to	find	that	story	and	address	the		
                                                            buildings.	Older	cities	are	dotted	with	land	where	
underlying	issues.”	Still,	vacant	properties	fall	into		
                                                            homes,	factories,	or	stores	once	stood;	cities	like	
a	limited	number	of	categories	along	different	
                                                            Flint	or	Philadelphia	contain	tens	of	thousands	of	
dimensions	that,	taken	as	a	whole,	are	likely	to	           vacant	lots	where	buildings	used	to	be.	Although	
define	their	future.	The	type	of	ownership,	property	       generally	considered	less	of	a	nuisance	than	
type,	physical	characteristics,	geography,	and	more	        vacant,	abandoned	buildings,	unmanaged	vacant	
all	affect	their	potential	for	revitalization	and	reuse.	   lots	can	also	be	a	problem,	becoming	dumping	
                                                            grounds	and	blighting	their	neighborhood.	
While	single-family	houses	account	for	the	largest	
number,	vacant	properties	can	be	residential,	              In	some	cities	vacant	properties	can	be	found	
commercial,	or	industrial,	and	the	inventory	of	            in	most	neighborhoods,	on	almost	every	block.	
large,	potentially	environmentally	contaminated	            These	cities,	like	Detroit	or	Youngstown,		
properties	known	as	brownfields	are	often	the	              have	recently	attracted	intense	national	media	
Data show that
the number of         attention.2	In	other	cities,	like	Philadelphia	
                      or	New	Haven,	there	may	be	a	serious	vacancy	
vacant properties     problem	in	some	neighborhoods	but	not	citywide.	

measured by           And	in	yet	other	cities,	one	sees	only	spot		
                      abandonment,	where	a	particular	building	has	
vacancy rates         been	abandoned	for	particular,	unique	reasons.	

have risen steadily   Where	a	vacant	property	is	located	may		
                      determine	its	ultimate	fate.	While	a	vacant	house	
for over 40 years.    in	many	parts	of	Detroit	is	likely	to	stay	empty,		
                      be	abandoned,	and	ultimately	torn	down,		
                      a	similar	house	in	Los	Angeles	might	readily	find		
                      a	buyer	willing	to	invest	the	money	needed	to		
                      put	it	back	into	use.	While	many	vacant	properties	
                      are	located	in	areas	where	there	is	little	or		
                      no	market	demand	for	housing	of	any	type	or	
                      condition,	others	may	be	located	in	areas	where	
                      there	is	demand,	but	not	at	prices	high	enough		
                      to	make	homebuyers	willing	to	invest	the	amount	
of	money	needed	to	restore	an	abandoned	                  government	policies	and	the	practices	of	the	
property	to	sound,	usable	condition.	Still	others		       public	or	private	entity	responsible—the	owner,		
are	economically	sound	propositions,	but	are	             the	lender	or	the	local	government—that	ultimately	
hung	up	by	legal,	procedural,	or	other	problems.	         determine	the	property’s	fate.
Understanding	these	differences	is	critical	to	being	
able	to	come	up	with	sound,	effective	strategies.	
                                                          A snapshot
                                                          It	is	not	easy	to	accurately	assess	the	number	of	
Finally,	vacant	and	abandoned	properties	can		            vacant	or	abandoned	properties	in	a	city	or	region,	
be	distinguished	by	their	legal	status,	which	can	        let	alone	the	United	States.	However,	data	show	

                                                                                                                 The	Challenge	and	Opportunity
be	as	important	in	ultimately	determining	the	            that	the	number	of	vacant	properties	measured	by	
future	of	a	property	as	its	type	or	location.		           vacancy	rates—not	just	abandoned	properties,		
While	nearly	all	vacant	buildings	start	out	in	           but	also	those	properties	being	actively	marketed	
private	ownership,	either	by	an	owner-occupant	           for	sale	or	rent—have	risen	steadily	for	over		
or	investor,	abandonment	and	foreclosure	often	           40	years	(Figure	1).	Although	some	vacant	
go	hand	in	hand—either	abandonment	leads	to	              housing	is	needed	in	any	housing	market	(houses	
foreclosure,	or	foreclosure	leads	to	abandonment.	        for	sale,	or	apartments	for	rent	are	needed	to		
That	can	mean	either	tax	foreclosure,	where	a	

                                                                                                                 Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
                                                          offer	choices	to	people	who	are	moving),	it	is	when	
municipality	or	county	takes	the	property	or	puts	        vacant	houses	do	not	readily	find	buyers	or		
it	up	for	sale	for	the	owner’s	failure	to	pay	property	   tenants	that	they	become	a	problem,	and	begin		
taxes;	or	mortgage	foreclosure,	where	the	lender	or	      to	turn	into	abandoned	properties.
mortgagee	takes	the	property	or	puts	it	up	for	sale	
                                                          Homeowner	vacancy	rates	today	are	approaching	
for	the	owner’s	failure	to	make	mortgage	payments.
                                                          three	percent,	while	rental	vacancy	rates	are	
In	the	end	though,	the	legal	status	of	a	property	        nearing	11	percent.	Although	the	majority	of	these	
never	drives	its	future	by	itself—local	market		          vacant	properties	are	not	problem	or	abandoned	
conditions,	coupled	with	the	legal	status,	local	         properties,	the	dramatic	increase	in	overall	

Local market conditions, coupled with legal
status, local government policies, and practices
of the public or private entity responsible
ultimately determines the property’s fate.
          vacancies,	particularly	since	2000,	is	likely		           2000	and	2008,	by	which	year other vacant	
          to	be	associated	with	a	parallel	increase	in		            properties	nationally	totaled	4.7	million	or	one	of	
          abandoned	properties.	                                    every	28	dwellings.3	

          Corroboration	for	this	is	found	in	the	census	count	      Similar	trends	can	be	found	in	many	cities.		
          of	other vacant	properties.	Other vacant	properties	      Figure	2	shows	the	other vacant	percentage	for	
          are	those	that	are	neither	being	offered	for	sale		       four	older	cities	in	New	Jersey.	Only	Paterson,	
          or	rent,	held	for	occupancy,	or	used	for	seasonal	or	     which	saw	a	large	immigrant	influx	during	this	
          migrant	housing.	This	is	as	close	a	surrogate	for	        period,	failed	to	see	a	sharp	increase	in	the	
          abandoned	vacant	properties	as	the	census	offers.	        number	and	percentage	of	other vacant	properties.	
          Between	1970	and	2000,	the	number	of	other                While	until	recently	the	communities	most	visibly	
          vacant	properties	more	than	doubled,	going	               affected	by	vacant	properties	were	found	mainly	in	
          from	just	under	one	million	units	to	2.3	million.		       the	older	cities	and	towns	of	the	Northeast	and	
          During	the	same	period,	the	total	number	of	              Midwest,	the	combination	of	the	foreclosure	
          housing	units	in	the	United	States	increased		            crisis	and	the	recession	has	spread	the	problem	
          as	well,	but	only	by	roughly	two-thirds,	from	69	to	      across	the	country.	Although	it	is	hard	to	pin	
          116	million.	Other vacant	properties	made	up	             down	precisely	how	the	foreclosure	crisis	has	
          one	out	of	every	50	dwelling	units	in	the	country.	       affected	vacancy	and	abandonment,		
          According	to	the	2008	American	Community	                 United	States	Postal	Service	(USPS)	vacancy	
          Survey,	the	number	doubled	again	between	                 data4	can	offer	some	idea.

                       AnnUAL renTAL AnD HOmeOwner VACAnCy rATeS FOr
               Fig 1   THe UnITeD STATeS: 1968–2009
          10                                                                                                               Rental
          8                                                                                                                Vacancies

                                                                                                                       SOURCE OF
          6                                                                                                            RECESSION DATA:
                                                                                                                       National Bureau
                                                                                                                       of Economic
                                                                                                                       Research, Inc.


                1968   1972      1976     1980     1984      1988   1992     1996     2000       2004   2008
                                              OTHer VACAnT UnITS In
                                    Fig 2     new jerSey CITIeS: 1970–2000
Percent of all Housing Units

                               12                                                                          1980
                                                                                                       US Census of

                                                                                                                      The	Challenge	and	Opportunity


                                       Camden              newark                Paterson    Trenton

                               The	USPS	data	show	a	devastating	picture,	
                               particularly	for	traditionally	weak	markets,		               It is clear that,         11

                               where	the	number	of	vacant	properties	is	high	
                                                                                            although vacancy

                                                                                                                      Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
                               and	continuing	to	rise,	as	shown	in	Figure	3	
                               (following	page).	In	cities	like	Flint,	Gary,		
                                                                                            conditions are less
                               and	Detroit,	more	than	one	out	of	every	five	
                               addresses	is	vacant.	In	these	cities,	the	combined	          severe in Sunbelt
                               vacant	and	no-stat	data	are	a	good	reflection	of	
                               abandonment	since	the	no-stat	data	likely	
                                                                                            cities, the data
                               include	properties	that	are	uninhabitable	or	                shows a trend that
                               unable	to	be	occupied.	With	a	single	exception	
                               (Youngstown	between	2008	and	2009),	the	                     is much the same as
                               percentage	of	vacant	addresses	has	risen	every
                                                                                            in the distressed
                               year in each of these cities. The	one-year	drop	in	
                               Youngstown	is	probably	the	result	of	the	many	               older cities.
                               demolitions	carried	out	by	the	city	that	year.
                                            Fig 3    VACAnT PrOPerTIeS In SIx OLDer CITIeS: 2006–2010
     Percent of all Vacant Addresses

                                       20                                                                                                                   2008
                                                                                                                                                      US Postal Service.
                                                                                                                                                      Data aggregates
                                       10                                                                                                             vacant and
                                                                                                                                                      no-stat addresses.


                                              Detroit          Buffalo         Birmingham           Flint             Gary         youngstown

                                            Fig 4    VACAnT PrOPerTIeS In FIVe SUnBeLT CITIeS: 2006–2010
Percent of all Vacant Addresses

                                       20                                                                                                                   2008

                                                                                                                                                     US Postal Service.
                                                                                                                                                     Data aggregates
                                       10                                                                                                            vacant and
                                                                                                                                                     no-stat addresses.


                                                     miami             Tampa             Phoenix          Fort myers         Las Vegas

                                       Figure	4	shows	similarly	combined	vacant	and	               has	been	halted	before	completion.	Even	with	
                                       no-stat	data	for	five	Sunbelt	cities.	In	these	cities,	     that	qualification,	it	is	clear	that	although	vacancy	
                                       vacant	or	no-stat	properties	include	seasonal	              conditions	are	less	severe,	the	data	shows	a	
                                       homes	as	well	as	houses	under	construction—or,	             trend	that	is	much	the	same	as	in	the	distressed	
                                       in	today’s	market,	houses	where	construction	               older	cities.
                                         Fig 5    VACAnT BUSIneSS ADDreSSeS: 2008–2010
Percent of all Business Addresses

                                    40                                                                                                               2010

                                    30                                                                                                          US Postal Service.
                                                                                                                                                Data aggregates
                                                                                                                                                vacant and
                                                                                                                                                no-stat addresses.

                                                                                                                                                                     The	Challenge	and	Opportunity

                                          Buffalo     Birmingham          Flint     youngstown    miami          Tampa        Phoenix

                                    Only	limited	data	on	the	amount	of	vacant,	             vacancy	was	the	highest	in	at	least	10	years,	
                                    abandoned,	or	underutilized	commercial	and	             reaching	8.8	percent.6	At	the	same	time,
                                    industrial	properties	is	available.	As	with	the	        	the	vacancy	rate	of	commercial	office	space		

                                                                                                                                                                     Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
                                    residential	real	estate	market,	the	USPS	evidence	      in	the	U.S.	rose	to	17.2	percent,	a	level	unseen	
                                    indicates	that	these	inventories	are	likewise	          since	1994.7	
                                    experiencing	exceptionally	high	levels	of	vacancy	
                                                                                            Vacancy	rates	for	industrial	properties	in	many	
                                    and	abandonment.	Figure	5	shows	a	steady	
                                                                                            parts	of	the	country	have	also	reached	peak	
                                    increase	in	vacant	and	no-stat	business	addresses	
                                                                                            levels,	with	Chicago	at	12.2	percent	in	the	fourth	
                                    over	the	past	three	years5	in	both	Rustbelt	and	
                                                                                            quarter	of	2009	(the	highest	in	19	years);8	
                                    Sunbelt	cities,	with	a	similar	trajectory.
                                                                                            Washington	D.C.	at	15.8	percent	in	the	fourth	
                                    While	no	historic	data	set	is	available	for		           quarter	of	2009	(the	highest	in	16	years);9	and	the	
                                    comparison,	the	data	in	Figure	5	is	consistent		        Twin	Cities	at	16.7	percent	in	the	first	half	of	2010	
                                    with	reports	of	increased	vacancies	coming	from	        (the	highest	in	ten	years).10	
                                    the	commercial	real	estate	industry.	According		
                                    to	data	released	by	the	real	estate	research	firm	
                                    Reis	Inc.,	the	vacancy	rate	at	American	strip	malls	
                                    reached	10.6	percent	in	the	fourth	quarter	of	
                                    2009,	an	eighteen-year	high,	and	shopping	mall	
while all of the factors leading
to abandonment are related,

market or economic
forces are usually
the ones that most
powerfully determine
the outcomes of
vacant properties.
Putting the pieces together:
           Understanding the Problem,
Crafting the Solution
Abandonment	rarely	flows	from	a	single	cause;	instead,	it	can	be	triggered	by		
economic	and	population	shifts,	regional	market	forces,	personal	financial	problems,	
or	quality	of	life	decisions.	Existing	obsolete	or	ineffective	legal	systems	often		
exacerbate	these	triggers	by	making	it	hard	for	properties,	once	abandoned,		
to	return	productively	to	the	market.

It’s the economy                                       turing,	like	most	in	the	industrial	Midwest,	were	

As	James	Carville	famously	said,	“it’s	the	economy,	   particularly	hard-hit,	as	their	industries	contracted	

stupid.”	While	all	of	the	factors	leading	to	aban-     or	disappeared	entirely.11	These	cities	include	          15
donment	are	related,	market	or	economic	forces	        major	iconic	cities	of	American	history	like	Detroit	

are	usually	the	ones	that	most	powerfully	deter-       and	Pittsburgh,	as	well	as	hundreds	of	smaller	

mine	the	outcomes	of	vacant	properties,	whether	       communities.	While	at	first,	the	suburbs	of	these	

they	will	be	reused	or	abandoned,	and	perhaps	         cities	grew—largely	by	absorbing	people	and	firms	

ultimately	demolished.	Abandonment	reflects	           from	their	central	cities—in	recent	years,	many	

economic	and	demographic	shifts	in	American	           suburban	areas,	particularly	the	inner	or	“first	ring”	

society,	including	disinvestment	in	older	cities,	     suburbs,	also	lost	jobs	and	population.	Between	

migration	from	the	Midwest	to	the	Sunbelt,	loss	of	    1970	and	2000,	Cuyahoga	County,	which	contains	

manufacturing	in	the	Rustbelt,	and	in	recent	years,	   Cleveland,	lost	nearly	20	percent	of	its	population.	

the	foreclosure	crisis	and	the	recession	that	have	    Seven	of	its	suburban	communities	each	lost	

led	to	millions	of	Americans	losing	their	homes.	      more	than	20	percent	of	their	population	during	
                                                       this	period.	
Many	of	America’s	older	cities	have	been	losing	
both	population	and	jobs	since	the	1950s	and	          Some	cities	that	lost	population	and	saw	wide-

1960s,	as	their	population	and	business	activity	      spread	abandonment	in	the	1970s	and	1980s	

moved	to	the	suburbs	and	to	growing	Sunbelt	           began	to	gain	back	population	in	the	last	two	

regions.	Cities	that	were	dependent	on	manufac-        decades.	Two	good	examples	are	New	York	City	
and	Boston,	both	of	which	have	experienced	                buildings	before	their	real	estate	markets	are	likely	
dramatic	economic	turnarounds.	Both	had	large	             to	return	to	vitality.	
numbers	of	vacant	properties	in	the	1970s	and	
                                                           Physical	obsolescence	is	closely	related	to		
few	today.	
                                                           the	geographic	factors	of	weak	market	demand.		
Other	cities	and	suburbs,	though,	have	continued	          Many	properties	that	met	demand	in	1910,	such	
to	steadily	lose	population	and	jobs.	These	places	        as	small	row	houses	in	Philadelphia	or	multi-story	
have	a	vast	oversupply	of	homes,	apartments,	              factories	in	Cleveland,	are	no	longer	interesting	
stores,	and	factories	compared	to	today’s	demand.	         either	to	homebuyers	or	manufacturers.		
Simply	stated,	there	are	not	enough	people	who	            These	properties	are	disproportionately	located		
want	to	live	in	these	homes	and	apartments,	or	            in	America’s	older	cities.	While	they	are	sometimes	
operate	businesses	in	these	stores	and	factories	          converted	to	other	uses	when	located	in	a	strong	
(or	convert	them	to	other	uses)	to	use	up	the	             market	city	like	Boston,	they	languish	elsewhere.
supply.	These	communities	will	not	be	able	to	find	
                                                           Job	losses	also	affect	communities	due	to	a	
users	for	many	of	the	properties	that	were	built,	
                                                           resident’s	inability	to	maintain	a	home	in	good	
when	these	cities	were	growing	and	thriving.	
                                                           condition,	pay	the	rent	or	mortgage,	and	pay	
As	property	owners	realize	that	they	can’t	find	           the	property	taxes.	Although	there	are	signs	that	
buyers	for	their	properties,	or	if	they	can,	that	those	   economic	growth	is	resuming	nationally,	the	
buyers	can’t	afford	to	pay	enough	to	cover	their	          increase	is	modest	and	the	unemployment	rate	
costs,	they	abandon	their	properties.	As	most	of	          remains	at	dangerously	high	levels.	While	the	
these	cities	continue	to	lose	jobs	and	population,	        national	unemployment	rate	in	the	spring	of	2010	
they	will	have	to	recognize	that	they	are	unlikely	        hovers	close	to	ten	percent,	it	is	around	15	percent	
to	return	to	the	days	of	the	1950s.	While	well-            in	the	Flint	and	Detroit	areas,	18	percent	or		
designed	and	consistently	enforced	legal	systems	          higher	in	much	of	California’s	Central	Valley,		
can	help	maintain	the	properties	and	minimize	the	         and	25	percent	in	the	city	of	Detroit.
harm	they	do	to	the	community,	a	weak	market	
                                                           If	significant	private-sector	job	growth	does	
can	only	begin	to	maintain	values	when	it	stabi-
                                                           not	take	place	soon	and	high	unemployment	
lizes	at	a	population	level	that	can	be	supported	
                                                           continues,	as	experts	fear	it	will,	communities	
by	its	economic	activity	and	population	trends.	
                                                           around	the	country	will	destabilize	further.	
Shrinking	cities	in	weak	market	regions	will	have	to	
                                                           The	destabilization	of	the	housing	market	that	
fundamentally	rethink	how	they	use	the	land	and	
                                                           has	taken	place,	and	is	continuing,	is	likely	to	
                                                          Cities are being
slow	down	the	economic	recovery.	As	Federal	
                                                          forced to lay off
Reserve	Chair	Ben	Bernanke	noted	in	June	
2010,	housing	activity	continues	to	be	“weighed	          building inspectors,
down,	in	part,	by	a	large	inventory	of	distressed	
or	vacant	existing	houses.”12	
                                                          firefighters and

                                                                                                                   Understanding	the	Problem,	Crafting	the	Solution
                                                          police officers, and
The municipal fiscal crisis
The	headlines	in	this	recession	have	been		               cut back on critical
about	job	loss	and	factory	closings,	but	an	equally	
significant	crisis	is	the	erosion	of	the	fiscal	health	
                                                          activities such as
of	America’s	states	and	cities.	The	bursting	of	the	      property maintenance,
real	estate	bubble	and	the	recession	has	led	to	
an	unprecedented,	simultaneous	drop	in	all	three	         nuisance abatement
of	the	principal	sources	of	public	revenue:	
income	tax,	sales	tax,	and	property	tax	receipts.	
                                                          and demolition...these
This	loss	has	triggered	massive	deficits	for		            actions may allow these

                                                                                                                   Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
state	and	local	budgets	across	the	country,		
with	dire	consequences.	The	National	League		
                                                          problems to get worse,
of	Cities	surveyed	its	members	to	find	that	“7	in	
                                                          compromising many
10	city	officials	indicated	they	are	responding		
to	the	economic	crisis	by	making	personnel	cuts,	         communities’ future.
including	layoffs,	hiring	freezes	and	furloughs.	
Many	cities	are	also	cutting	public	safety	spending	      From	the	perspective	of	abandoned	properties,	
and	healthcare	benefits.” 	Meanwhile,	hard-
                                                          this	fiscal	crisis	comes	at	a	particularly	difficult	
pressed	states	are	cutting	back	on	the	assistance	        time.	As	the	number	of	abandoned	properties	
they	once	provided	their	local	governments.		             grows,	and	more	neighborhoods	are	destabilized	
Even	though	the	recession	may	be	ending,	as	the	          by	foreclosures	and	vacancies,	cities	need	to	be	
NLC	report	notes	“city	budget	shortfalls	are	             able	to	address	these	issues	in	order	to	rebuild	
predicted	to	become	more	severe	as	tax	collec-            confidence,	preserve	sound	neighborhoods,	and	
tions,	which	lag	the	overall	economy,	catch	up	           keep	once-vital	neighborhoods	from	complete	
with	economic	conditions.”                                collapse.	Instead,	cities	are	being	forced	to	lay	off	
building	inspectors,	firefighters,	and	police	         Foreclosures: compounding a
officers,	and	cut	back	on	critical	activities	such		   complex situation
as	property	maintenance,	nuisance	abatement,	          The	recent	wave	of	mortgage	foreclosures	since	
and	demolition.	Recognizing	that	cities	have	little	   2007	has	had	a	devastating	effect	on	many	
choice	in	the	matter,	the	fact	remains	that	these	     regions	across	the	country.	Cities	and	towns	with	
actions	may	allow	these	problems	to	get	worse,	        formerly	strong	housing	markets	and	those	with	
compromising	many	communities’	future.		               long-term	weak	markets	alike	are	struggling	with	
In	several	cities,	non-profit	foundations	and	         the	questions	of	how	to	maintain	stable	neigh-
organizations	have	tried	to	fill	the	gap,	but	their	   borhoods	in	the	face	of	widespread	vacant	and	
resources	are	far	too	limited	to	offset	the	massive	   foreclosed	houses.	We	believe	that	mortgage	
loss	in	state	and	local	resources	being	felt	          foreclosures	are	the	main	reason	that	vacancies	
around	the	country.	                                   have	increased	so	consistently	during	the	past	
                                                       five	years.	While	foreclosures	do	not	always	lead	
                                                       to	abandonment,	they	can	trigger	it	in	many	
                                                       different	ways:	

                                                        	 Many	property	owners,	when	they	real-
                                                          ize	they	will	lose	their	property,	abandon	
                                                          it,	simply	walking	away	even	before	the	
                                                          foreclosure	actually	takes	place.
    	 When	the	foreclosure	sale	(sheriff’s	sale	or	       will	increase	dramatically	as	a	massive	“shadow	
      trustee	sale)	takes	place,	if	the	owner	is	still	   inventory”	of	properties	in	default	or	foreclosure,	
      living	in	the	property,	the	lender	almost	always	
                                                          but	not	yet	foreclosed	upon,	moves	through	the	
      immediately	evicts	the	owner,	rendering	the	
                                                          process	and	into	REO	status.	
      property	vacant	and	at	risk	of	vandalism		
      or	arson.	                                          However,	market	forces	impact	outcomes	and	

                                                                                                                      Understanding	the	Problem,	Crafting	the	Solution
    	 In	some	weak	market	areas,	the	lender	may	not	      foreclosures	do	not	always	lead	to	abandon-
      even	take	control	of	the	property,	a	phenomenon	    ment.	Many	properties	are	bought	and	put		
      sometimes	called	a	“bank	walkaway.”	
                                                          back	to	use,	either	by	homebuyers	or	investors,	
During	the	foreclosure	process,	if	the	property		         particularly	in	communities	where	people	
is	abandoned,	it	goes	into	a	sort	of	legal	limbo:		       expect	property	values	to	begin	rising	again	in	
the	owner	is	no	longer	around,	but	in	most	cases	         the	next	couple	of	years.
the	lender	has	no	responsibility	for	the	property	
                                                          In	relatively	strong	market	areas	such	as	Phoenix	
until	the	foreclosure	is	final	and	the	deed	is	
                                                          or	Las	Vegas	the	market	is	absorbing	much	of	the	
recorded.	In	most	states,	this	process	can	take	
                                                          REO	inventory,	principally	through	the	activities	of	       19
more	than	a	year;	in	some	it	takes	more	than	two	
                                                          absentee	investors.	This	may	not	last.	Market	rents	

                                                                                                                      Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
years.	Meanwhile,	the	properties	may	deteriorate	
                                                          are	dropping	in	these	areas,	making	them	less	
and	become	a	blight	on	the	community.	
                                                          attractive	to	investors,	while—as	a	result	of	the	influx	
Once	a	property	is	taken	by	the	lender,	it	becomes	       of	rental	single-family	homes	onto	the	market—
what	is	known	as	REO	(Real-Estate-Owned)	                 multifamily	vacancies	have	increased	to	the	point	
property.	It	may	be	put	up	for	sale	through	a	local	      where	many	garden	apartment	complexes	may	be	
broker,	or	it	may	be	sold	by	the	lender	as	part	of		      at	risk	of	abandonment.	A	similar	problem	afflicts	
a	bulk	sale	to	an	investor.	Either	way,	the	outcome	      South	Florida,	where	the	collapse	of	condominium	
is	uncertain,	and	there	is	no	assurance	that	the	         associations	as	a	result	of	the	large	number	of	fore-
property	will	be	maintained,	or	will	end	up	in	           closed	units	has	raised	questions	about	the	survival	
responsible	hands.                                        of	entire	complexes.	A	further	risk	factor	in	these	
                                                          areas	is	the	presence	of	thousands	of	“underwater”	
The	short-term	outlook	is	not	positive.	Although	the	
                                                          homeowners,	who	owe	more	on	their	mortgage	
number	of	REO	properties	appeared	to	stabilize	
                                                          than	their	homes	are	worth.	If	large	numbers	of	
during	2009,	many	experts	believe	that	over	the	
                                                          these	owners	engage	in	“strategic	default,”	that	
coming	year	or	two	the	number	of	REO	properties	
                                                          could	further	destabilize	the	market	in	these	areas.	
                                                          To address the scale
Although	foreclosures	are	occurring	everywhere,	
recovery	will	take	different	forms.	In	many	weak	
                                                          of the challenge we
market	cities	and	regions,	foreclosures	have	             face today, we need
compounded	long-term	abandonment	problems,	
often	undoing	years	of	progress	made	by	cities	           to look more closely
and	CDCs	in	turning	around	once-disinvested	
                                                          at the political and
neighborhoods	and	restoring	abandoned		
properties	to	use.	These	cities	are	confronting		         legal systems that
                                                          govern property and
the	need	for	a	sustained,	long-term	effort	to	
rebuild	the	shattered	confidence	of	homebuyers	
and	investors	in	the	value	of	their	properties	and	       land reuse.
the	stability	of	their	neighborhoods,	without	which	
neighborhoods	destabilized	by	foreclosure	may	            level	of	success.	But	to	address	the	scale	of	the	
never	recover	their	vitality.	Even	in	strong	market	      challenge	we	face	today,	we	need	to	look	more	
areas,	many	destabilized	urban	neighborhoods	             closely	at	the	political	and	legal	systems	that	
will	take	years	to	recover	from	the	ravages	of		          govern	property	and	land	reuse.
the	foreclosure	crisis.	
                                                          Many	different	legal	systems,	primarily	defined	by	
Laws and public policies                                  state	law	and	local	ordinances,	determine	how	
make a difference                                         property	is	treated,	from	zoning	and	building	codes	
Halting	and	reversing	the	cycle	of	abandonment	           to	foreclosure	procedures.	Many	of	those	laws	
requires	thoughtful,	deliberate	intervention	based	       actually	contribute	to	the	epidemic	of	abandonment,	
on	a	clear	understanding	of	the	unique	combina-           as	they	neither	prevent	foreclosures	or	abandon-
tion	of	factors	affecting	vacant	and	problem		            ment	nor	foster	the	efficient	return	of	property	to	the	
properties,	and	the	tools	available	to	deal	with	them.	   market	or	to	a	responsible	holding	entity.	

Some	of	the	interventions	undertaken	recently	to	         Government	policies	and	practices	can	also	exacer-
tackle	the	problem	are	described	later	in	this	           bate	the	challenges	posed	by	high	rates	of	aban-
report.	Whether	dealing	with	recently	foreclosed	         donment.	Local	governments	that	sell	tax	liens	and	
properties	or	long-abandoned	industrial	parcels,	         tax-foreclosed	properties	to	speculators	rather	than	
many	of	these	interventions	have	relied	on	               holding	them	for	future	use	are	mortgaging	their	
transactional	efforts	that	have	shown	some		              future	for	short-term	gain.	The	problem	is	also	
compounded	by	a	diffusion	of	responsibility.		             State	tax	foreclosure	laws	are	also	problematic.	
In	many	local	governments,	responsibility	for	the	         Designed	to	maximize	short-term	revenues	to	the	
decisions	and	actions	that	affect	properties—from	         city	or	county,	they	often	disregard	the	commu-
code	enforcement,	policing,	and	demolition	to	             nity’s	long-term	fiscal	or	social	health.	Rather	than	
planning,	acquisition,	tax	collection,	disposition,	       being	a	means	of	rescuing	properties	from	

                                                                                                                    Understanding	the	Problem,	Crafting	the	Solution
and	project	financing—is	spread	across	multiple	           abandonment,	these	laws	often	compound	the	
agencies	that	rarely	coordinate	their	efforts,	and	        problem,	adding	to	the	inventory	of	abandoned,	
often	don’t	even	talk	to	one	another.	Commentator	         dilapidated	properties.	
Mark	Alan	Hughes	wrote	that	“the	responsibility	for	
                                                           Federal	programs	and	policies	have	also	contrib-
vacant	property	in	Philadelphia	is	divided	among		
                                                           uted	to	the	problem,	from	the	days	when	urban	
15	separate	agencies.”14	Ten	years	later,	the	city	
                                                           renewal	undermined	many	still-vital	communities,	
is	only	now	mobilizing	to	develop	a	coordinated	
                                                           and	interstate	highways	helped	accelerate	the	
vacant	property	strategy.	
                                                           movement	to	the	suburbs,	to	today.	Other	federal	
Zoning	and	building	codes	can	make	the	reuse	of	           programs,	like	the	Low	Income	Housing	Tax	Credit	
abandoned	properties	burdensome.	Antiquated	               program,	continue	to	encourage	development	of	

                                                                                                                    Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
zoning	codes	require	time-consuming	and	expen-             new	housing	units	in	neighborhoods	with	a	
sive	processes	for	even	minor	changes	in	use,	while	       surplus	of	affordable	rental	housing,	increasing	
strict	building	codes	discourage	self-help	improve-        the	risk	of	abandonment	for	thousands	of	privately	
ment	and	sweat	equity.	State	and	local	land	use	           owned	rental	properties.
regulations	generally	favor	building	on	greenfield	
sites,	building	new	publicly-financed	infrastructure	at	
the	metropolitan	periphery	and	exacerbating	the	
costs	of	vacancy	in	the	center.
perceptions about
vacant properties
create the opportunity to turn
scattered, piecemeal approaches
into a comprehensive strategy.
                                       and Challenges
As	of	mid-2010,	the	growing	number	of	vacant	and	abandoned	properties	presents		
a	daunting	challenge	to	the	nation,	and	powerful	dynamics	in	the	economy		
threaten	to	make	the	situation	worse	in	the	coming	years.	Yet,	there	is	cause	for	hope.	
For	the	first	time	in	many	years,	the	federal	government	has	begun	to	look	seriously	
at	these	issues,	while	the	foreclosure	crisis	has	unleashed	a	wave	of	creativity	at	the	
state	and	local	levels.	State	legislatures	have	enacted	valuable	policy	reforms,	while	
city	governments,	CDCs,	foundations,	and	others	have	all	taken	up	the	challenge.	
While	the	coming	years	will	be	difficult,	they	will	also	be	years	of	opportunity.	                               23

Successful	efforts	across	the	country	show	what	           for	this	comprehensive	strategy,	as	well	as	the	
communities	can	do	to	prevent	abandonment	and	             reasons	we	believe	that	this	is	a	time	of	hope,	
restore	vacant	properties	to	productive	use.	After	        rather	than	despair.	
years	of	effort,	we	are	learning	how	best	to	respond	
to	the	challenges	posed	by	vacant	and	abandoned	
                                                           Signs of progress
                                                           State	legislatures	have	taken	important	steps	to	
properties	at	the	local	level.	The	time	calls	for	these	
                                                           change	the	laws	surrounding	property	acquisition	
efforts	to	take	on	a	larger,	more	ambitious	scale,	
                                                           and	disposition:
and	shifting	perceptions	about	vacant	properties	
create	the	opportunity	to	turn	scattered,	piecemeal	        	 In	2003,	Michigan	enacted	pioneering	
approaches	into	a	comprehensive	strategy	that	                legislation	authorizing	counties	to	create	land	
                                                              bank	authorities	and	giving	those	authorities	
links	federal,	state,	and	local	laws	and	practices		
                                                              strong	tools	to	acquire,	maintain,	and	transfer	
with	private	and	non-profit	initiatives.	
                                                              ownership	of	tax	foreclosed,	vacant	properties.	
                                                              Today,	following	the	lead	of	Genesee	County,	
In	this	section	we	will	briefly	sketch	some	of	the	
                                                              there	are	over	30	county	land	banks	in		
successful	efforts	that	have	laid	the	groundwork	
 Progress in Minneapolis, MN

 Promoting economic Development
 through Crime Prevention
 In the early 2000s, the neigh-            From	then	on,	the	AINDC	set	to	         The	AINDC’s	strategy	had	enor-
                                           work,	prioritizing	safety	and	crime	    mous	payoffs.	The	combined	
 borhood surrounding Frank-
                                           reduction	as	key	elements	to	its	       effects	of	the	bakery	taking	a	
 lin Avenue in Minneapolis
                                           redevelopment	effort.                   chance	on	expanding	on	Franklin	
 was one of the most blighted                                                      Avenue	and	the	AINDC’s	focus	on	
 and crime-ridden areas of                 The	AINDC	started	by	forging	a	         designing	for	safety	catalyzed	the	
                                           partnership	with	the	police	depart-     resurgence	of	the	commercial	
 the city. The area was better
                                           ment	and	emphasizing	the	safety	        district	that	now	boasts	a	health	
 known for nuisance busi-                  that	would	come	with	bricks	and	        clinic,	florist,	grocery	store,		
 nesses or illegal activities—             mortar	development.	Building	on	        drug	store,	police	safety	center,	
 such as adult bookstores,                 the	idea	that	busy	streets	are	safer	   and	popular	coffee	shop.		
                                           streets,	the	AINDC	sought	busi-         The	investments	made	by	these	
 open drug dealing, and pros-
                                           nesses	that	would	stay	open	past	5	     new	businesses	led	to	increased	
 titution—rather than meeting              p.m.	When	the	Franklin	Street	          foot	traffic	and	lower	levels	of	
 basic residential needs, like             Bakery,	a	neighborhood,	24-hour	        crime,	and	the	decrease	in	crime	
 a shop for groceries or medi-             industrial	bakery,	was	searching	for	   has	resulted	in	a	boon	to	economic	
                                           a	new	location,	including	in	safer	     and	civic	activity	in	this	once	

 cine. Efforts to redevelop the
                                           suburban	neighborhoods,	the	            troubled	neighborhood.
 community were met with                   AINDC	persuaded	the	owners	that	
 skepticism, the prevailing                the	jobs	it	could	bring	to	the	
 wisdom being that no legiti-              community	where	its	employees	
                                           lived	would	have	a	significant	and	
 mate businesses would take
                                           positive	impact	on	the	neighbor-
 a chance on the troubled                  hood.	The	bakery	then	took	over	an	
 neighborhood.                             abandoned	gas	station—a	crime	
                                           hotspot	that	accounted	for	more	

 A	local	CDC,	the	American	Indian	         than	500	police	calls	in	a	single	
 Neighborhood	Development	                 year—and	two	neighboring	proper-
 Corporation	(AINDC),	saw	opportu-         ties.	To	further	make	the	area	
 nity	where	others	saw	none.	When	         pedestrian	friendly,	the	AINDC	did	
 AINDC	Executive	Director,	Theresa	        away	with	the	long,	dark	corridors	
 Carr,	discovered	that	a	local	store	      that	characterized	the	area’s	
 was	a	front	for	prostitution,	she	        troubled	shopping	center	and	
 “realized	that,	in	some	respects,	real	   replaced	them	with	a	spacious,		
 estate	owners	have	much	more	             well	lighted	plaza	with	a	fountain,	
 power	over	crime	than	the	police	do.”	    public	art	and	ambient	music.
                                                        This is a time of hope,
     Michigan,	as	well	as	a	statewide	land	bank	and	    rather than despair.
     a	municipal	land	bank	in	Detroit.

 	 Other	states	are	following	Michigan’s	
   lead	in	introducing	land	bank	legislation.		         A	new	paradigm	for	revitalizing	America’s	older	
   Ohio	followed	suit	in	2009,	authorizing	the	         industrial	cities	has	taken	hold.	Since	Youngstown,	
   establishment	of	a	land	bank	authority	in	           Ohio	first	broke	the	ice	with	its	Youngstown	2010	
   Cuyahoga	County,	the	largest	city	of	which	is	
                                                        plan,	more	and	more	cities	have	begun	to	plan	
   Cleveland.	That	body,	the	Cuyahoga	County	
                                                        their	future	around	the	idea	that	a	smaller	city	can	
   Land	Reutilization	Corporation	has	taken	the	
     lead	role	in	the	county’s	successful	NSP2	         be	a	stronger,	healthier,	and	greener	city:
     application	and	in	2010,	the	state	expanded		

                                                                                                                Progress	and	Challenges
                                                         	 Rochester,	New	York	has	announced	Project	
     its	legislation,	authorizing	counties	with	more	
                                                           Green,	“a	bold	plan	that	would	change	the	look	
     than	60,000	residents	to	create	land	banks.	
                                                           and	feel	of	Rochester	by	replacing	vacant	
     Land	bank	legislation	has	also	been	recently	
                                                           properties	with	vast	swaths	of	green	space.”
     introduced	in	New	York	and	Pennsylvania.
                                                         	 Under	the	rubric	of	Re-Imagining	a	More	
 	 In	2009,	Texas	enacted	a	new	law	allowing	
                                                           Sustainable	Cleveland,	a	partnership	of	
   community	groups	to	file	receivership	actions	                                                               25
                                                           government,	foundations,	universities,	and	
   against	dangerous	properties	and	to	transform	
                                                           non-profit	organizations	has	come	together		

                                                                                                                Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
   the	properties	into	decent,	safe,	and	affordable	
                                                           to	foster	new	ways	of	using	Cleveland’s	vacant	
   housing.	The	law	also	helps	communities		
                                                           land,	while	knitting	together	the	fabric	of	its	
   and	cities	obtain	clear	title	to	the	properties.	
                                                           viable	neighborhoods.
   Similarly,	in	2009,	Pennsylvania	enacted	a	
   state	conservatorship	law,	giving	local	govern-       	 The	city	of	Detroit,	under	the	leadership	of	its	
   ments	and	non-profits	a	powerful	tool	to	gain	          energetic	new	mayor	Dave	Bing,	has	formed		
   control	of	neglected,	abandoned	properties.	            a	partnership	with	local	foundations	and	
   New	Jersey	and	Ohio	also	have	strong	vacant	            others	to	develop	a	new	strategy	for	that	city,	
   property	receivership	laws,	while	a	recent	             integrating	land	use,	economic	development,	
   Massachusetts	court	decision	has	allowed	that	          transportation,	and	schools,	based	on	the	
   state’s	receivership	law	to	be	used	for	vacant		        smaller-city	paradigm.	
     as	well	as	occupied	properties.	
                                                        New	information	technologies	are	also	helping	
•	   In	2009,	New	Jersey	passed	innovative	             local	actors	address	their	property	issues	more	
     state	legislation	to	hold	lenders	who	initiate	
     foreclosure	actions	legally	responsible	for	
     maintaining	the	properties	from	the	beginning	      	 NEO	CANDO,	a	property	information	system	
     of	the	foreclosure	process	if	they	are		              for	Northeastern	Ohio	based	at	Case	Western	
     abandoned	by	their	owners.	                           Reserve	University,	has	enabled	organizations	
Progress in Cleveland, OH

Building a neighborhood
Stabilization Team effort
Although the steady loss                  hood	stabilization	team”—local	               	 Identify	and	map	blighted	
                                                                                          properties	that	threaten	to		
                                          intermediary,	Neighborhood	Progress	
of population in Cleveland                                                                undermine	existing	assets		
                                          Inc.,	Case	Western	Reserve	University,	
is one contributing factor                                                                and	renovation	projects.
                                          14	CDCs,	and	Empowering	and	
                                                                                        	 Identify	and	map	occupied	
to the substantial level of               Strengthening	Ohio’s	People	(ESOP,	a	
                                                                                          homes	at	risk	of	foreclosure		
vacant properties in the city,            local	foreclosure	prevention	agen-              and	abandonment.
                                          cy)—to	regularly	meet	and	solicit	input	
the foreclosure crisis, which                                                           	 Prioritize	and	categorize	
                                          from	CDCs	working	directly	in	the	              destabilizing	properties.
started earlier here than in
                                          field.	The	effort	is	a	comprehensive	         	 Link	properties	with	an	
many other communities,                   approach	aimed	at	both	ends	of	the	             appropriate	intervention.
threatens to abrogate                     stabilization	challenge—preventing	           	 Organize	the	stabilization
                                          abandonment	through	strategies	                 work–assigning	tasks	and	
decades of success and
                                          such	as	foreclosure	prevention	and	             reporting	back.
investment in the city’s
                                          converting	abandoned	properties	for	          	 Track	outcomes	through	
hardest hit neighborhoods.                productive	use.	The	team	aggres-                NEO	CANDO.15
                                          sively	employs	all	available	federal,	
The	level	of	abandonment	found	in	                                                      During	the	team	meetings,	each	
                                          state,	and	local	resources.	This	
                                                                                        CDC	maps	and	juxtaposes	its	assets	

Cleveland	today	is	unprecedented,	
                                          customized	approach	surpasses	the	
even	to	many	community	develop-                                                         with	NEO	CANDO	data	about	par-
                                          scope	of	much	of	the	work	consid-
ment	veterans.	However,	commu-                                                          ticular	neighborhoods’	destabilizing	
                                          ered	neighborhood	stabilization	
nity	developers	in	Cleveland	have	a	                                                    factors	including	at-risk	mortgages,	
                                          today,	applying	strategies	and	
long	history	of	devising	innovative	                                                    foreclosures,	upcoming	foreclo-
                                          activities	that	may	not	be	eligible	for	
responses	to	difficult	challenges	and	                                                  sure	sales,	bank	or	investor-owned	
                                          funding	through	the	federal	Neighbor-
they	are	working	with	stakeholders	                                                     property,	delinquent	taxes,	and	
                                          hood	Stabilization	Program.	These	
in	the	city	to	formulate	a	coordinated	                                                 vacancies.	Case	Western	University	
                                          critical	yet	ineligible	activities	include	

response	that	effectively	targets	and	                                                  updates	the	NEO	CANDO	data	used	
                                          acquiring	privately	owned	property,	
leverages	available	resources.	                                                         by	the	team	regularly,	so	the	team	
                                          commencing	nuisance	abatement	
                                                                                        can	spend	time	making	strategic	
                                          and	receivership	proceedings,		
To	overcome	the	obstacles	to	                                                           intervention	decisions	rather	than	
                                          and	aggressively	enforcing	housing	
stabilization	(trouble	acquiring	REO	                                                   collecting	information.	The	team	
                                          and	building	codes.
and	post-REO	properties,	presence		                                                     meets	with	individual	neighborhood	
of	multiple	blighted	properties		                                                       groups	to	identify	destabilizing	
                                          The	team	holds	monthly	meetings	
within	a	neighborhood,	and	worry		                                                      forces	that	may	harm	community		
                                          with	CDCs	in	order	to:
that	nearby	occupied	homes	may	                                                         assets	and	to	target	limited	resources	
                                          	 Identify,	map,	and	research	poten-
become	vacant),	a	number	of	                                                            near	neighborhood	anchors.	
                                            tial	acquisition/renovation	targets
stakeholders	created	a	“neighbor-
Working	with	the	NST,	the	Slavic	Village	        in	Cleveland	and	elsewhere	to	target	their	
Development	CDC	leveraged	invest-                foreclosure	prevention	and	neighborhood	
ment	in	one	of	their	new	projects—a	             stabilization	efforts.	
90-unit	single	family	housing	complex	         	 Driven	by	the	needs	of	Chicago’s	Neighbor-
located	on	an	abandoned	industrial	              hood	Stabilization	Program,	Mercy	Portfolio	
site—to	revitalize	the	surrounding	area,	        Services	developed	Community	Central,	a	
which	was	also	adjacent	to	a	regional	           system	to	manage	the	program.	Community	
bank’s	new	headquarters.	Slavic	Village	         Central	is	a	powerful	web-based	tool	that	
had	identified	the	three-block	area	with	        Mercy	uses	to	run	a	reuse	program	involving	
a	40	percent	vacancy	rate	in	order	to	           thousands	of	vacant	and	foreclosed	properties.	
                                                 Mercy	is	licensing	the	system	to	other	cities	

                                                                                                      Progress	and	Challenges
mutually	strengthen	these	new	anchors	
and	those	blighted	blocks.	With	the	             and	non-profit	organizations.	

help	of	the	NST,	Slavic	Village	began		        	 PolicyMap,	developed	by	The	Reinvestment	
a	property-by-property	analysis	and	             Fund,	provides	a	wide	range	of	data	and	maps	
developed	strategies	for	each.		                 at	the	census	tract	level	through	a	user-friendly	
The	CDC	acquired	27	of	the	vacant	               interface	to	support	local	planning	and	
                                                 research	efforts.	                                   27
properties	and	rehabbed	the	homes	
(offering	some	for	sale	and	some	for	

                                                                                                      Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
                                              A	number	of	other	local	initiatives	have	emerged	to	
lease),	demolished	nearly	40	properties,	
                                              strengthen	nuisance	abatement	and	code	enforce-
landscaped	vacant	lots,	filed	receiver-
                                              ment	outcomes,	and	leverage	municipal	services	
ship	suits	to	eliminate	nuisances	and	
offered	home	repair	loans	and	light	          and	private	resources	to	support	redevelopment:
posts	to	the	existing	residents.	
                                               	 The	City	of	Chula	Vista,	California	enacted	a	
Less	than	three	years	later,	the		               local	ordinance	requiring	lenders	to	take	care	
rehabbed	properties	are	almost	com-              of	vacant	properties	during	foreclosure.16	
                                                 The	city’s	ordinance	has	become	a	model	for	
pletely	occupied;	green	spaces	flourish	
                                                 as	many	as	100	other	localities	around	the	
where	once	there	were	vacant	and	
                                                 country,	mostly	in	California	but	also	in	other	
abandoned	lots;	the	dirty	industrial	site	
                                                 states	such	as	Florida	and	Connecticut.
is	gone;	an	old	rail	line	was	replaced	
with	a	bike	trail,	and	a	community		           	 The	City	of	Cleveland	has	initiated	an	
garden	greets	visitors	and	residents	alike	      innovative	program	that	makes	the	city’s	
on	the	neighborhood’s	main	avenue.	              community	development	corporations	its	
                                                 code	enforcement	partners	to	leverage	
These	efforts	stabilized	the	market	in	
                                                 limited	municipal	resources.	
an	area	that	was	once	severely	
distressed	and	are	a	hallmark	of	the	
results	possible	by	working	together.
 Progress in Flint, MI

 Individual Transformations
 through Land Bank efforts
 Policymakers and prac-                  outcomes	of	the	Genesee	County	           14	percent	of	the	buildings	that	
                                         Land	Bank	efforts.	The	story	of	life-     actually	go	through	foreclosure	are	
 titioners examining the
                                         long	Flint	resident,	Roger	Mimms,	        occupied,	and	the	land	bank	staff	
 successes of the Genesee
                                         highlights	the	importance	of		            first	inspects	the	property	to	ensure	
 County Land Bank often                  these	impacts.	                           it	meets	code	and	then	determines	
 focus on the fiscal impact                                                        what	happens	next,	including	deter-
                                         Mr.	Mimms	remembers	how	the	              mining	if	the	occupant	could	enter	
 of its programs and large-
                                         Flint	community	he	lived	in	for	over	     a	rent-to-own	contract	or	if	it	can	be	
 scale initiatives.                      20	years	changed	as	his	neighbors	        a	land	bank	rental.	The	land	bank	
                                         moved	or	passed	away.	As	absentee	        operates	a	rental	management	
 The	demolition	and	clean	and	green	
                                         owners	and	other	negative	influ-          program	of	about	100	properties	
 programs,	for	example,	have	recently	
                                         ences	took	over	and	replaced	his	         throughout	the	city.
 shown	that	together,	a	$3.5	million	
                                         friends,	he	couldn’t	sleep	well	in	his	
 investment	returns	an	impressive	
                                         rented	home	and	felt	like	he	needed	      Because	Mr.	Mimms’s	home	was	
 increase—over	$109	million—on	
                                         a	weapon	nearby	for	safety.	Like	         uninhabitable	and	in	a	neighbor-
 surrounding	property	values.	Another	
                                         homes	in	similar	neighborhoods	           hood	that	was	becoming	aban-
 victory	comes	from	the	Land	Bank	
                                         across	the	country,	the	owner	of	the	     doned,	the	land	bank	property	

 Center’s	rehab	on	Saginaw	Street,		
                                         house	abdicated	responsibility	for	its	   manager	asked	if	he	would	con-
 a	$4.1	million	mixed-use	investment	
                                         upkeep	and	Mr.	Mimms	contended	           sider	moving	into	another	land	bank	
 that	launched	revitalization	of	the	
                                         with	health	and	safety	nuisances	         property.	Although	Mr.	Mimms’s	
 blocks	adjacent	to	the	University	of	
                                         including	mice	and	roaches.	              neighborhood	and	house	were		
 Michigan’s	campus:	following	the	
                                                                                   unsafe,	it	was	the	home	he	knew	
 substantial	rehab	of	the	land	bank	     When	the	owner	ignored	another	           and	initially	he	wanted	to	stay	where	
 building,	seven	vacant	buildings	       critical	responsibility	of	property	      he	was;	but	he	agreed	to	look.		
 were	rehabbed	providing	approxi-        ownership	and	failed	to	pay	proper-       Upon	entering	one	of	the	houses,	
 mately	150	new	residential	units	and	   ty	taxes	in	2003,	Mr.	Mimms’s	house	      Mr.	Mimms	described	having	a	
 60,000	square	feet	of	leasable	         went	through	the	tax	foreclosure	         “spiritual	moment”	and	was	over-
 commercial	space;	approximately	        process	initiated	by	the	Genesee	         come	with	the	feeling	that	he’d	
 $60	million	was	invested	in	the	        County	Treasurer,	and	became	             been	there	before.	A	short	time	later	
 blocks	immediately	around	the	Land	     part	of	the	inventory	owned	by	the	       Mr.	Mimms	relocated	to	that	land	
 Bank	Center;	in	September	the	          Genesee	County	Land	Bank.	That’s	         bank	property.	It’s	been	seven	years	
 long-vacant	Durant	hotel	will	open	     when	Mr.	Mimms’s	life	changed.	           since	the	land	bank	foreclosed	on	
 as	new	student	housing.
                                                                                   the	landlord	of	his	old	house,	and	
                                         Most	often,	the	properties	transfer-      Mr.	Mimms	reports	being	“as	happy	
 But	less	known,	and	equally	impor-      ring	to	the	GCLB	are	vacant	lots	or	      as	happy	can	be.	I’m	home.	This	is	
 tant,	are	individual	transformative	    empty	buildings.	But	approximately	       where	I	need	to	be.”	
	 Baltimore’s	Healthy	Neighborhoods	Initiative	           foster	homeownership,	Minneapolis	has	
  focuses	on	strengthening	the	city’s	viable		            reversed	the	decline	and	significantly	stabilized	
  but	at	risk	“middle	market”	neighborhoods	              the	Northside	neighborhood,	the	city’s	most	
  through	a	variety	of	confidence-building	               severely	distressed	area.
  strategies.	Also	in	Baltimore,	the	city’s	Code	
                                                        	 Community	organizations	in	Detroit,	spear-
  Enforcement	Division	is	partnering	with	
                                                          headed	by	Community	Legal	Resources,	
  private	developers	to	stabilize	areas	around	
                                                          created	the	Detroit	Vacant	Property	Campaign,	
  rehabilitated	homes.
                                                          which	has	galvanized	the	city’s	policies		
	 The	Green	Impact	Zone	in	Kansas	City	is	                and	practices	with	respect	to	vacant	and	
  concentrating	federal,	state,	and	local	                abandoned	properties.	
  resources	to	transform	a	150-block	area,	

                                                                                                                Progress	and	Challenges
  focusing	on	housing	rehabilitation,	weatheriza-      Partnerships	that	bring	together	the	central	city,	
  tion,	community	policing,	and	job	training.          inner-ring	suburbs,	and	counties	in	a	shared	effort	
                                                       were	once	exceedingly	rare.	Now	they	are	
	 The	city	of	Indianapolis	has	designated	the	
  Smart	Growth	Redevelopment	District,	a	              becoming	more	common.	Cities	and	suburbs	are	
  comprehensive	community	and	economic	                starting	to	realize	that	they	are	in	this	together,		
  development	planning	initiative,	to	coordinate	      and	will	have	to	work	together	if	they	are	to	reverse	
  brownfield	cleanup	activities,	create	new	
                                                       the	tide	of	deterioration	and	abandonment	that	

                                                                                                                Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
  housing	and	transit	opportunities,	and	revitalize	
                                                       threatens	all	of	them.	
  a	540-acre	blighted	area	of	the	city.

	 San	Diego	employs	a	vacant	property	                 Are new ways of
  coordinator	to	work	with	property	owners	to	
                                                       thinking emerging?
  address	nuisance	activities	and	problem	
                                                       The	increase	in	the	number	and	scale	of	effective	
  properties	in	the	city.
                                                       and	creative	state	and	local	initiatives	is	not	a	
	 In	Minnesota,	the	Family	Housing	Fund	took	
                                                       fluke.	We	believe	it	is	a	sign	of	a	real	change	in	
  the	lead	to	bring	a	diverse	group	of	public		
  and	private	entities	together	in	the	Minnesota	      how	people	are	beginning	to	think	about	vacant	
  Foreclosure	Partners	Council.	Since	2007,		          property	and	land	use	issues.
  the	Council	has	fostered	a	coordinated	
                                                       A fresh look at the nation’s older
  approach	to	the	foreclosure	crisis,	linking	
                                                       industrial cities
  foreclosure	prevention,	neighborhood		
                                                       Only	a	few	years	ago,	to	suggest	that	cities	like	
  stabilization,	and	policy	reform.	
                                                       Cleveland	or	Detroit	should	rethink	traditional	
	 By	targeting	its	federal	Neighborhood	Stabiliza-
                                                       growth	models	and	concentrate	on	becoming	
  tion	Program	resources	carefully,	through	
  programs	that	rehabilitate	vacant	housing	and	       smaller	but	stronger	cities	would	have	been	
 Progress in Baltimore, MD

 Leveraging Public and
 Private Sectors
 Vigorously enforcing housing      Over	the	years,	Baltimore	has	             how	multiple	sites	will	connect	to	
                                   developed	a	sophisticated	array	of	        form	“islands	of	development.”	
 and building codes is a criti-
                                   systems	and	remedies	to	remediate	         Baltimore’s	Housing	Code	Enforce-
 cal component of any local
                                   its	vacant	and	abandoned	proper-           ment	Division	also	partners	with	
 government effort to main-        ties,	including	a	new	initiative	to	       high-capacity,	nonprofit	organiza-
 tain the health of transitional   transform	properties	From	Vacants          tions	to	bolster	the	number	of	tools	
                                   to Value.	Although	the	private	            available	through	the	From Vacants
 neighborhoods. In those
                                   development	sector	is	not	always	          to Value	program.	
 with concentrated blocks of
                                   viewed	as	an	ally	in	the	effort	to	
 vacancy and abandonment           combat	blight,	the	initiative	seeks	       Carried	by	the	strength	of	these	
 however, getting real out-        to	incentivize	responsible,	private	       partnerships,	the	city	developed	
                                   development	by	deploying	the	city’s	       impressive	goals	for	the	first	year	of	
 comes through code enforce-
                                   code	enforcement	tools	for	the	ben-        the	initiative:	rehab	1,000	privately-
 ment can be a challenge.                                                     owned	vacant	buildings	in	some	of	
                                   efit	of	developers	who	commit	their	
 But even in those areas, a        own	capital	to	revitalize	significantly	   the	city’s	most	distressed	neighbor-
 well-thought out combination      abandoned	neighborhoods.	                  hoods,	leverage	private	investment	
                                                                              in	housing	stock,	create	affordable	
 of remedies can help encour-
                                   On	blighted	blocks,	code	enforce-          housing	opportunities	for	residents	
 age responsible ownership,        ment	attorneys	work	with	capital-          at	various	income	levels,	increase	
 keep properties from becom-       ized	private	developers	to	minimize	       the	property	and	income	tax	base,	

 ing nuisances, and facilitate     investment	risk	by	tailoring	a	            and	create	community	stewarded	
                                   remedy	for	each	vacant	property.	          green	space.
 the transfer of properties
                                   Remedies	include:	engaging	in	
 from investors who will not       criminal	and	civil	prosecutions;	          In	transitional	areas,	where	vacant	
 rehabilitate them to others       issuing	pre-payable	civil	citations	       buildings	are	not	concentrated	
                                   in	significant	dollar	amounts;	act-        but	may	be	limited	to	only	a	few	
 who will. However, like many

                                   ing	as	a	receiver	for	a	property	for	      per	block,	From Vacants to Value	
 municipal agencies, code                                                     uses	automated	business	systems	
                                   sale;	demolishing	and	stabilizing	
 enforcement departments           as	necessary;	and	bringing	effec-          to	generate	$900	citations	to	the	
 are often short-staffed and       tive	nuisance	abatement	actions	to	        owners	of	vacant	properties	that	are	
                                   deter	and	punish	property-based	           otherwise	capable	of	either	selling	
 under-resourced, and direc-
                                   criminal	activity.	Together,	develop-      or	rehabilitating	them.	In	this	way,	
 tors must determine the most                                                 attorney	resources	can	be	shifted	
                                   ers	and	the	city	identify	blocks	that	
 strategic deployment of           are	likely	good	candidates	for	whole	      to	areas	of	concentrated	vacancy	
 their resources.                  block	renovation	and	determine	            where	their	skills	and	code	enforce-
ment	tool	kit	are	most	required.		          unthinkable.17	Times	have	changed.	Many	cities	
First	year	goals	in	these	transitional	     now	recognize	that	they	will	not	return	to	their	
areas	include	the	rehabilitation	of	        one-time	peak	populations,	nor	to	their	history		
another	1,000	vacant	buildings
                                            as	manufacturing	centers.	This	admission		

In	August	2008,	Baltimore’s	Housing	        has	fundamentally	changed	how	they	think	about	

Code	Enforcement	Division	began	            themselves	and	their	future;	it	has	unleashed,		
working	with	the	Westport	Community	        as	we	suggested	above,	a	host	of	creative	
Association	and	a	private	developer	        initiatives	that	challenge	traditional	ideas	of	city	
in	the	2000-2400	blocks	of	Annapolis	       planning,	and	open	the	door	to	a	new	way	of	
Road.	After	an	initial	survey	identified	

                                                                                                    Progress	and	Challenges
                                            thinking	about	these	cities.	Because	of	the	
36	vacant	structures	along	the	four-
                                            demographics	of	these	cities,	and	the	ways	in	
block	area,	the	program	set	about	
                                            which	population	and	job	loss	has	disproportion-
using	resources	to	leverage	the	
revitalization.	The	city	initiated	code	    ally	affected	minority	and	low-income	communi-

enforcement	litigation	resulting	in	        ties,	the	issue	also	raises	critical	questions		
twenty-five	of	those	vacant	properties	     about	social	and	racial	equity.                         31
being	placed	under	court	order;	three	
                                            Different approaches to

                                                                                                    Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
of	the	properties	have	been	sold	to	
                                            environmental and land use issues
new	owners	and	two	of	those	owners	
                                            A	new	awareness	of	environmental	issues	
have	already	received	occupancy	
                                            triggered	by	climate	change	is	changing	the	way	
permits.	The	city	demolished	one	
vacant	structure	that	presented	an	         we	think	about	land	use	and	its	relationship	to	the	

immediate	hazard	and	the	remaining	         environment.	State	climate	action	plans	have	
owners	have	initiated	rehabilitation	       begun	to	look	at	ways	infill	development	can	
work	without	being	placed	under	            promote	higher	densities	and	reduce	automobile	
court	order.	Over	the	next	six	months,	     travel,	while	there	is	a	growing	focus	on	preserving	
80	percent	of	the	target	area	is	
                                            farmland	and	open	space	by	directing	develop-
expected	to	be	revitalized	from	a	
                                            ment	to	existing	communities.	The	newly-released	
source	of	blight	to	a	source	of	value	
                                            LEED	for	Neighborhood	Development	(LEED-ND)	
for	the	surrounding	neighborhood	
and	the	city.                               rating	system	recognizes	the	environmental	
                                            benefits	of	locating	projects	on	previously	devel-
                                            oped	or	formerly	contaminated	land,	while	
                                            recently	introduced	federal	legislation	would	
 Progress in New Jersey

 Leading the way
 in State Policy
 In January 2010, the State of               If	the	property	subsequently	               properties	and	neighborhoods	at	
                                             becomes	vacant,	and	the	lender	             risk	of	abandonment,	and	work	
 New Jersey passed legisla-
                                             fails	to	correct	a	code	violation	or	       with	neighborhood-based	organi-
 tion known to advocates as
                                             abate	a	nuisance,	and	the	mu-               zations	to	monitor	or	gain	control	
 the Creditor Responsibility                 nicipality	spends	its	own	funds,	the	       of	the	properties.
 Law, a valuable tool to                     municipality	may	place	a	lien	on	
                                             the	property.	The	law	also	gives	the	       This	law	is	likely	to	be	replicated	in	
 combat the challenges faced
                                             municipality	authority	to	go	after	         states	confronting	the	challenge		
 by communities reeling                                                                  of	vacant,	foreclosed,	and	unmain-
                                             any	other	asset	of	the	creditor	to	
 from a glut of foreclosures.                obtain	repayment,	imposing	on	the	          tained	properties	in	their	communi-
                                             lender	the	same	obligation	that	a	          ties	that	contribute	to	blight	and	
 Cities	throughout	the	country	have	                                                     lower	property	values.	In	New	
                                             titleholder	owes	to	its	creditor.
 suffered	the	deterioration	that	                                                        Jersey,	community	development	
 occurs	in	neighborhoods	while	              As	municipalities	become	more	              advocates	are	encouraging	munici-
 lengthy	foreclosure	proceedings	            familiar	with	the	law,	stakehold-           palities	to	incorporate	use	of	the	
 wind	their	way	through	the	courts.	         ers	will	be	encouraging	them	to	            law	into	a	comprehensive	local	
 While	the	legal	process	has	its	            incorporate	it	into	a	more	holistic	        strategy	that	uses	other	state	laws,	
 own	inherent	delays,	lenders	are	           neighborhood	preservation	sys-              including	the	nuisance	abatement	
 sometimes	guilty	using	tactics	to	          tem.	Although	it’s	too	soon	to	point	       laws,	and	the	Abandoned	Property	
 stall	proceedings,	often	without	           to	results	yet,	it	looks	like	the	law	is	   Rehabilitation	Act	(which	autho-

 recourse,	because	they	have	little	         encouraging	some	municipalities	            rizes	cities	to	accelerate	tax	
 incentive	to	take	possession	of	va-         to	develop	partnerships	with	CDCs	          foreclosure,	pursue	vacant	prop-
 cant	or	abandoned	properties.	This	         and	civic	organizations—crime	              erty	receivership,	and	use	spot	
 new	law	gives	local	governments	            watch	groups,	block	clubs,	etc.—	           blight	eminent	domain)	as	part	of	
 authority	to	require	the	foreclosing	       to	help	monitor	when	properties	            an	aggressive	effort	to	stave	off	the	
 entity	to	take	responsibility	for	the	      become	vacant	and,	therefore,		             effects	of	the	foreclosure	crisis.

 property	from	the	day	the	entity	initi-     the	lender’s	responsibility	to	
 ates	the	foreclosure	process,	even	         maintain.	The	law	also	encourages	
 before	it	takes	title	to	the	property.	     municipalities	to	create	real	prop-
 The	lender	must	notify	the	munici-          erty	information	systems	that	allow	
 pality	that	it	has	initiated	foreclosure	   them	to	accurately	track	foreclo-
 proceedings,	and	provide	contact	           sures	as	they	become	vacant.	
 information	for	whoever	is	respon-          By	mapping	foreclosure	notices,	
 sible	for	maintaining	the	property.		       cities	can	recognize	clusters	of	
provide	incentives	for	siting	new	renewable	             A new federal policy climate
energy	facilities	on	brownfield	sites.	                  Finally,	one	of	the	most	promising	opportunities		

Stormwater	management	offers	a	good	example	             for	a	future	comprehensive	and	strategic	vacant	

of	new	thinking.	Many	older	cities	are	under	orders	     property	policy	agenda	lies	in	the	recent	changes	

from	the	EPA	to	replace	their	combined	storm		           in	federal	thinking.	

and	sanitary	sewage	systems,	whose	recurrent	            In	the	summer	of	2008,	Congress	enacted	the	
overflow	problems	pollute	streams	and	waterways.	        Neighborhood	Stabilization	Program	(NSP)20	
Rather	than	spend	billions	of	dollars	building	          to	help	communities	address	the	effects	of	
massive	new	separate	sewer	systems,	cities	like	         foreclosed	and	abandoned	properties	in	their	

                                                                                                                 Progress	and	Challenges
Philadelphia	are	working	with	the	EPA	to	use	their	      neighborhoods.	Practitioners	across	the	country	
vacant	land	to	filter	water	runoff,	while	creating	      appreciated	the	new	federal	funding,	and	
neighborhood	amenities	such	as	parks	and	rain	           welcomed	the	federal	government’s	recognition	
gardens	in	the	process.	                                 of	the	damage	caused	by	the	growing	inventory		

The	era	of	the	“drive	until	you	qualify”	philosophy	     of	vacant,	foreclosed	properties.	Despite	high	
of	housing,	in	which	people	moved	farther		              expectations,	the	results	of	the	initial	NSP	program	

                                                                                                                 Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
and	farther	away	from	the	city	center	in	search		
of	homes	they	could	afford,	may	be	ending.	
Greater	housing	affordability	is	often	offset	by	
higher	transportation	costs	in	“location-inefficient”	
areas18	while	households	living	in	infill	and	transit-
accessible	locations	have	much	lower	transporta-
tion	costs.	With	a	growing	national	awareness	of	the	
benefits	of	transit-oriented	development	and	rising	
market	demand	for	transit-proximate	housing,	
vacant	properties	located	along	transportation	
corridors	are	increasingly	being	seen	as	opportuni-
ties	by	localities,	states,	and	the	federal	govern-
ment.	Recent	EPA	studies	show	a	dramatic	
increase	in	the	share	of	new	construction	taking	
place	in	central	cities	and	older	suburbs	in	several	
regions,	particularly	in	the	past	five	years.19	
 Progress in San Diego, CA

 Coordinating responses
 to Vacancy
 By helping unlock the                   city,	a	liaison	between	the	city	and	   find	investors	who	might	buy	the	
                                         the	public	that	helps	find	remedies	    property.	The	experience	in	San	
 unique story of problem
                                         for	problem	properties	is	a	valu-       Diego	has	shown	that	money	is	not	
 properties and under-
                                         able	resource	in	any	community.	        the	only	obstacle	to	rehabilitation.	
 standing how a structure                The	Vacant	Property	Coordinator	in	     More	complex	challenges	include	
 becomes vacant, the City                San	Diego	is	tasked	with	creating	      sentimental	attachments,	family	
                                         an	inventory	and	profile	of	vacant	     disagreements	over	disposition	of	
 of San Diego Code Enforce-
                                         properties,	and	with	being	the	first	   a	property,	mental	illness	or	other	
 ment Department is able to
                                         responder	to	a	complaint	of	an	         incompetency,	title	disputes,	zoning	
 more efficiently dispatch               unsecured	building.	The	Coordina-       changes	that	hinder	a	commercial	
 effective tools and direct              tor	makes	sure	both	the	city	and	       property’s	potential,	litigation	over	
                                         the	owner	follow	through	with	their	    insurance	proceeds,	hesitancy	to	
 resources to help property
                                         responsibilities;	the	city	may	need	    rebuild	a	fire-damaged	unit	due	to	
 owners comply with codes
                                         to	stabilize	any	crime	and	nuisance	    concerns	that	doing	so	will	cause	
 and relieve the neighbor-               activity,	and	each	owner	is	required	   the	owner	to	lose	a	previously	con-
 hood of nuisances affecting             by	San	Diego	Municipal	Code	to	         forming	right.
                                         develop	a	plan	for	maintenance	
 residents’ quality of life.
                                         and	rehab.                              One	success	achieved	recently	
                                                                                 was	facilitating	the	reuse	of	a	

 Whether	a	vacant	structure	can	be	
                                         A	good	coordinator	is	trained	in	       longstanding	vacant	home	in	the	
 revived,	and	how	quickly,	depends	
                                         building	code	and	land	develop-         Golden	Hills	area,	known	for	
 on	available	resources,	the	com-
                                         ment	regulations	and	has	a	solid	       beautifully	renovated	Victorian	
 prehensiveness	of	the	response,	
                                         working	knowledge	of	available	         style	homes	and	for	the	work	of	
 and	the	strength	of	existing	ordi-
                                         economic	development	programs,	         noted	architect	Irving	Gil.	After	the	
 nances.	While	there	are	numerous	
                                         agencies,	and	grants	in	the	com-        owner’s	death,	the	home	had	
 building	blocks	to	the	approach	
                                         munity.	If	the	property	needs	to	be	    become	a	source	of	blight	and	
 used	in	San	Diego,	including	an	ef-

                                         ushered	through	probate	or	the	         crime.	The	Coordinator	tracked	
 fective	vacant	property	ordinance,	
                                         owner	needs	a	loan	to	rehabilitate	     down	a	surviving	niece	who	stood	
 a	code	enforcement	prosecutor,	
                                         the	property,	the	Coordinator	can	      to	inherit	the	property,	and	assisted	
 strong	partnerships,	and	an	array	of	
                                         assist	by	identifying	pro	bono	legal	   her	with	assessing	the	property	
 enforcement	strategies,	a	unique	
                                         assistance	or	determine	if	the	         and	following	through	with	a	
 element	is	the	use	of	a	Vacant	
                                         owner	qualifies	for	loans	from	the	     probate	action.	Simultaneously,		
 Property	Coordinator.
                                         Housing	Commission	or	nonprofit	        the	Coordinator	developed	a	
 Although	a	coordinator’s	work	may	      agencies.	With	the	owner’s	permis-      relationship	with	members	of	the	
 be	more	manageable	in	a	smaller	        sion,	the	Coordinator	can	also	help	    real	estate	industry	with	funds		
and	expertise	to	complete	historical	    (known	as	NSP1)	are	likely	to	be	modest.	This	is		
preservation	projects.	Despite	the	      a	reflection	of	many	factors,	including	the	nature	
interest	of	many	investors	and	local	
                                         of	the	program—which	encouraged	transactional,	
historians,	the	niece	would	not	sell;	
                                         property-by-property	interventions	rather	than	
the	niece	wanted	her	aunt	to	be	
                                         long-term,	strategic	approaches.	Additionally	
honored	and	feared	that	her	unique	
history	with	the	property	would	be	      problematic	was	the	distribution	of	NSP	funds,	

lost.	By	understanding	the	niece’s	      which	used	a	formula	that	sent	large	amounts		
motivations,	the	Coordinator	was	        to	high-foreclosure	but	low-capacity	Sunbelt	
able	to	propose	a	win-win	course	of	     communities	that	had	difficulty	spending	their	

                                                                                                     Progress	and	Challenges
action.	She	suggested	that	when	the	     money	in	a	cost-effective	and	strategic	fashion.		
niece	found	an	investor	she	felt	
                                         As	of	May	2010,	recipients	had	four	months	left	to	
comfortable	with,	she	could	request	
                                         commit	the	federal	funds,	yet	over	one-third	of		
that	a	plaque	with	her	aunt’s	name	
                                         the	grantees	had	committed	less	than	half.	
be	affixed	to	the	structure.	The	
Coordinator	also	ensured	that	the	       The	new	HUD	leadership	that	came	in	with	the	
community	was	involved	during	the	                                                                   35
                                         Obama	administration	recognized	many	of	these	
renovation	process.	Once	the	

                                                                                                     Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
                                         problems.	The	second	round	of	NSP	funding	in	
property	was	renovated,	there	was	
                                         2009	was	allocated	on	a	competitive	rather	than		
an	open	house	so	the	preservation	
committee	and	the	community	could	       a	formula-driven	basis,	with	criteria	that	looked	

see	the	finished	renovation.	Today,	a	   explicitly	at	each	state’s	or	city’s	plan	for	strategic,	
plaque	honoring	the	previous	owner	      market-based,	targeting	of	federal	resources.		
adorns	the	home,	which	has	been	         The	percentage	of	funds	that	went	to	areas	with	
restored	to	its	former	beauty.           systemic	abandonment	was	considerably	higher	
                                         than	in	the	first	round.	HUD	has	also	changed	
                                         some	of	the	program	rules	to	give	local	govern-
                                         ments	and	CDCs	greater	flexibility	in	their	property	
                                         acquisition	efforts21	and	has	begun	to	explore	
                                         creating	a	targeted	program	to	address	the	
                                         issues	of	cities	with	long-term	population	loss	
                                         and	systemic	abandonment	issues,	although	
                                         the	timing	and	scope	of	any	such	program		
                                         are	still	uncertain.	
 Progress in Detroit, MI

 Community-based Action
 Vacant and abandoned lots,              Property	Campaign,	which	they	           The	survey,	plus	boarding,	painting,	
                                         staff.	Through	the	Community	and	        and	cleanups	targeted	toward		
 homes, and commercial and
                                         Property	Preservation	Program	           an	area	surrounding	an	elementary	
 industrial buildings have
                                         (CAPP),	CLR/DVPC	operates	a	grant	       school,	have	had	a	substantial	
 been present in Detroit for             program	that	provides	supplemen-         impact	on	the	safety	of	children	
 years. But the combination              tal	financial	assistance	to	community-   traveling	to	and	from	school.	
                                         based	organizations	that	are	
 of pre-existing vacancy,
                                         engaged	in	community-initiated	          As	Detroit	and	other	cities	allocate	
 large numbers of foreclo-                                                        resources	based	on	where	the	as-
                                         vacant	property	maintenance.	
 sures, and a sharp decline                                                       sets	are	located	in	the	community,	
 in the housing market has               Since	launching	in	2009,	CAPP	           it’s	important	to	remember	that	
                                         has	served	34	organizations	and	         engaged	citizens	are	a	tremendous	
 lead to unprecedented
                                         funded	a	range	of	activities,	includ-    asset	that	can	be	multiplied.	In	
 instability across the city’s           ing	alley	clean-ups	and	landscap-        addition	to	leading	to	measurable	
 neighborhoods. Although                 ing,	vacant	property	surveys	and	        outcomes,	the	CAPP	grants	are	
 every sector in the city is             mapping,	and	even	solar	light	           also	a	way	to	focus	on	building	the	
                                         installations.	Although	the	grants	      capacity	of	residents	who	are	will-

 pitching in to help make
                                         are	not	large,	community-based	          ing	to	spend	the	time	and	energy	
 Detroit’s neighborhoods                 efforts	to	reverse	blight	often	are	     to	work	together	to	deal	with	the	
 thrive again—including the              stalled	by	the	costs	of	equipment	       problems	brought	on	by	vacancies.	
 city leadership, which is de-           and	labor.	The	resources	provided	       One	grantee	organization	noted	
                                         through	the	program	are	sufficient	      that	the	program	is	“designed	to	
 veloping a comprehensive
                                         and	are	flexible	so	the	organiza-        engage—and	subsequently—em-
 strategic framework to guide            tions	can	develop	the	right	strategy	    power	residents	to	utilize	creative	
 efforts—residents and com-              for	their	neighborhoods.	                remedies	to	abate	nuisances…”		
 munity organizations are tak-                                                    An	engaged	and	empowered	com-
                                         One	organization	used	their	grant		      munity	is	one	of	the	most	important	
 ing action today to hold their          to	work	with	a	“clean	corps”	of	         elements	of	any	redevelopment	
 neighborhoods together.                 neighborhood	youth	to	conduct	a	         project.	With	the	CAPP	program	in	
                                         vacant	property	survey.	Through	         place	and	the	dedicated	work	of	the	
 One	organization	that	is	helping		      photographs	and	documentation	of	        city	and	community	organizations,	
 to	provide	support	to,	and	build	the	   the	conditions,	the	team	was	able		      Detroit	may	be	able	to	achieve		
 capacity	of,	these	critical	grass-      to	refer	283	properties	to	the	city	     the	successes	found	in	other		
 roots	efforts	is	Community	Legal	       departments	responsible,	where	          communities	across	the	country.
 Resources	and	the	Detroit	Vacant	       many	are	now	in	line	for	demolition.	
Despite	the	limitations	of	the	NSP	program,		           The	Partnership	for	Sustainable	Communities,	
overall	it	has	had	a	positive	effect.	Although	some	    launched	in	June	2009	by	HUD,	EPA,	and	DOT,	
communities	may	have	had	difficulty	spending	           represents	a	major	change	in	federal	policy,	by	
funds	effectively,	others	like	Chicago	and	Minne-       linking	housing,	transportation,	and	environmental	
apolis	have	risen	to	the	challenge	with	creative,	      protection	with	the	goal	of	creating	more	livable,	
innovative	strategies.	Far	more	needs	to	be	done	to	    equitable,	and	sustainable	communities.	For	the	
supplement	their	efforts,	including	the	leveraging	     first	time	ever,	these	three	agencies	are	working	
other	federal	resources	to	complement	the	NSP	          together	to	advance	agreed-upon	goals:	aligning	
efforts,	and	aligning	management	and	disposition	       federal	policies,	removing	barriers	to	collabora-

                                                                                                              Progress	and	Challenges
practices	of	federally-controlled	housing.	             tion,	and	leveraging	interagency	funding	sources	
                                                        to	promote	better	communitywide	outcomes.	An	
Recognizing	that	the	economic	crises	has	
                                                        initial	round	of	$150	million	in	sustainable	commu-
compounded	long-term	disinvestment	in	auto	
                                                        nities	planning	grants	is	expected	to	be	awarded	
manufacturing	communities	the	federal	govern-
                                                        by	HUD,	working	with	its	partners,	late	in	2010.
ment	recently	announced	a	commitment	to	
provide	over	$800	million	to	pay	for	environmental	

                                                                                                              Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
remediation	and	re-conditioning	of	90	brownfield	
sites	created	as	a	result	of	the	restructuring	of	
General	Motors,	giving	a	shot	in	the	arm	to	the	
cities	where	those	derelict	sites	are	located.22

Although	some	of	the	initial	federal	programmatic	
efforts	may	prove	to	show	a	modest	start,	we	see	
the	potential	of	more	fundamental	change	in	the	
future.	The	Obama	Administration	is	showing	a	
readiness	to	attack	some	of	the	systemic	barriers	
to	vacant	property	revitalization,	and	for	the	first	
time,	move	away	from	the	traditional	“one	size	fits	
all”	federal	approach	to	focus	directly	on	the	
issues	of	the	severely	impacted	older,	industrial	
cities	as	well	as	to	look	broadly	at	the	larger	
regional	issues	affecting	towns	and	cities.		
    Successful initiatives in the
 field and the way perceptions
     are changing suggest that

 this moment is an
opportunity that
  should be seized.
  Framing a
Policy Agenda
    For Vacant And Abandoned Properties

Both	the	successful	initiatives	in	the	field	and	the	way	perceptions	are	changing	
suggest	that	this	moment	represents	not	just	a	crisis,	but	also	an	opportunity	that	
should	be	seized	by	America’s	towns	and	cities.	At	the	same	time,	the	challenges	
ahead	are	great.	There	is	no	single	strategy	that	can	address	the	variety	of	problem	
property	situations.	Multiple	strategies	for	prevention,	acquisition,	maintenance,	
disposition,	and	financing	must	be	employed	to	promote	the	productive	reuse	of	
vacant	properties;	these	strategies,	moreover,	are	most	effective	only	when	they	
are	part	of	a	comprehensive,	well-designed	system.	Patience,	forethought,		
collaboration,	long-term	thinking,	sophisticated	mixtures	of	carrots	and	sticks,		
and	a	transparent	process	that	invites	rather	than	screens	out	participation	and	
criticism,	are	all	critical	to	the	success	of	any	strategy	that	seeks	to	rebuild		
communities	rather	than	simply	fix	scattered	individual	properties.	

Based	on	the	experience	of	states,	cities,	          Recommendations
non-profit	organizations,	for-profit	developers,		   No	single	entity,	sector,	or	industry	can	solve	a	
and	other	stakeholders,	we	offer	the	following	      community’s	vacant	and	abandoned	property	
principles	(see	page	40)	and	recommendations	        problems	on	its	own.	Success	takes	many	partners	
to	guide	future	policy	in	encouraging	and	           and	points	of	attack;	it	takes	what	Chicago’s	
incentivizing	change	in	the	underlying	systems	      Housing	Commissioner	Ellen	Sahli	calls	the		
for	land	revitalization.	                            “all	hands	on	deck”	approach.	At	the	same	time,	
   Ten Principles to Guide
   the Vacant Property Agenda
1	 Vacant and abandoned property issues                 7	 Property ownership is a combination
   are complicated, and require complex,                   of rights and responsibilities that go
   multifaceted strategies.	No	single	tool,	               together.	Property	owners	who	neglect	their	
   program,	or	“silver	bullet”	will	fix	the	problem.	      properties	and	allow	them	to	blight	their	
                                                           surroundings	and	harm	other	property	
2	 Communities	are	different,	the	forces	
                                                           owners	and	residents	cannot	hide	behind	
   triggering	abandonment	are	different,		
                                                           “property	rights”	rhetoric.	They	should	be		
   and	the	solutions	are	different.	We need
                                                           held	accountable	for	their	behavior.	
   to move away from “one size fits all”
   programs and strategies.                             8	 Government	must	lead,	but	cannot	solve	
                                                           the	problems	of	vacant	and	abandoned	
3	 These	problems	have	taken	years,	in	many	
                                                           properties	by	itself.	Solutions require that
   cases	decades,	to	emerge,	and	often	reflect	
                                                           the private sector, particularly the real
   deeply-rooted	underlying	problems.	Address-
                                                           estate and financial industries, the
   ing the vacant properties problem requires
                                                           nonprofit sector, residents and community-
   a long-term, sustained commitment.
                                                           based organizations, all be engaged.	
4	 Similarly,	a systemic approach is
                                                        9	 Vacant	and	abandoned	properties	affect	
   needed to address the forces driving
                                                           their	neighbors	most	of	all.	Residents of
   abandonment and reuse of properties,	
                                                           affected communities must be engaged
   rather	than	disconnected	building-by-	
                                                           in framing strategies to deal with the
   building	or	transactional	approaches.	
                                                           problem, particularly	where	those	strategies	
5	 All levels of government can and should                 (as	in	older	industrial	cities)	may	involve	major	
   play a strong role in addressing vacant                 changes	to	the	direction	of	public	policy.	
   property issues,	and	must	coordinate	their	
                                                        10 Vacant property strategies should be
   efforts,	both	among	agencies	at	the	same	
                                                             driven by solid data and information,
   level	of	government,	and	among	federal,	
                                                             to	make	sure	that	scarce	resources	are	used	
   state,	and	local	agencies.	While	the	state	and	
                                                             effectively,	that	progress	can	be	tracked,		
   federal	governments	can	provide	resources,	
                                                             and	strategies	constantly	refined	to	reflect	
   tools,	and	support,	local	government	must	be	
                                                             changes	in	economic	and	other	conditions.	
   at	the	center,	taking	responsibility	for	their	
   community’s	future.	

6	 Taking responsibility for the future of a
   community means being willing to take
   responsibility for properties, taking	control	of	
   properties	when	necessary	to	determine	their	
   outcomes	and	be	able	to	plan	for	the	future.	
different	entities,	sectors,	and	industries	have	unique	    	 Align	federal	programs	to	leverage	each	other,	
assets	and	need	to	play	different	roles.	Getting	the	         such	as	linking	neighborhood	stabilization		
                                                              and	energy-efficiency	funds,	or	CDBG	and	
roles	straight,	and	working	effectively	together,	is	the	
                                                              brownfields	programs,	aligning	timetables	and	
key	step	to	making	solutions	possible.
                                                              funding	criteria.	
Roles for the federal government                            	 Help	cities	and	states	get	the	information	they	
 	 Design	programs	that	reflect	the	differences	              need	to	make	good	decisions	by	providing	
   between	communities	and	markets,	including	                usable	data	and	supporting	the	creation	of	real	
   the	difference	between	systemic	and	transi-                property	information	systems.	
   tional	abandonment.	Federal	housing	and	
                                                            	 Establish	performance	objectives	for	programs	
   community	development	policy	should	focus	

                                                                                                                 Framing	a	Policy	Agenda
                                                              such	as	neighborhood	stabilization.	These	
   on	the	larger	goals	of	revitalizing	communities,	
                                                              objectives	should	be	based	on	sustainable	
   not	transactions	for	their	own	sake.	
                                                              neighborhood	change	goals	rather	than	on	
 	 Focus	directly	on	planning	and	community	                  transactions,	and	encourage	creative	local	
   regeneration	through	programs	that	encour-                 strategies	to	reach	the	goals.
   age	local	innovation	and	partnerships.		
                                                            	 Use	federal	discretionary	funding	programs	        41
   Federal	incentive	programs	should	include	
                                                              to	leverage	system	change	at	the	state	level,	
   support	for	reconfiguration	of	land	uses		

                                                                                                                 Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
                                                              following	the	model	of	the	Department	of	
   in	cities	with	large	amounts	of	surplus	vacant	
                                                              Education’s	“Race	to	the	Top.”	
   land	and	buildings.
	 Help	build	the	capacity	of	local	governments	      Roles for local government
  and	other	stakeholders	through	technical	          	 Frame	a	clear	vision	of	the	community’s	
  assistance,	training,	and	staffing	support.	         future	that	includes	a	strong	role	for	land	and	
                                                       building	reuse	and	reconfiguration.	
Roles for state government
	 Enact	legislation	to	enable	municipalities	        	 Engage	the	community’s	residents	in	the	
  to	take	control	over	vacant	properties	in	their	     process	of	thinking	through	vacant	property	
  communities,	through	tools	such	as	land	             reuse	and	land	reconfiguration	strategies,	
  banking,	tax	foreclosure	reform,	or	vacant	          being	up	front	about	the	challenges	ahead.	
  property	receivership.
                                                     	 Avoid	“quick	fix”	transactions	that	offer	little	
	 Change	state	policies	that	fuel	abandonment;	        long-term	benefit,	and	focus	instead	on	
  for	example	by	reforming	state	laws	that	govern	     systemic	change	for	long-term	transformation.
  mortgage	foreclosure	and	lender	responsibility.
                                                     	 Build	the	technical	and	managerial	capacity	
	 Facilitate	intergovernmental	cooperation	and	        in	city	government	to	frame	and	implement	
  regional	strategies	by	providing	incentives	for	     multi-dimensional	plans	for	revitalization		
  cooperative	efforts.	                                and	change.	

	 Target	state	assistance	programs	to	advance	       	 Partner	with	CDCs,	community-based	
  local	and	regional	strategies	that	discour-          organizations,	and	others	to	leverage	limited	
  age	sprawling	greenfield	development	and	            public	sector	resources.	
  incentivize	reuse	and	redevelopment	of		
                                                     	 Encourage	redevelopment	by	modernizing	
  vacant	and	underutilized	urban	land.	
                                                       land	use,	zoning,	and	building	regulations,	
                                                       and	creating	streamlined	“one	stop”		
                                                       permitting	systems.	

                                                     Roles for CDCs and other community-
                                                     based organizations
                                                     	 Go	beyond	transactional	housing	develop-
                                                       ment	activities	to	focus	on	comprehensive,	
                                                       market-driven,	and	sustainable	neighborhood	
                                                       stabilization	and	revitalization,	building	
                                                       healthier	communities	with	strong	social	capital.

                                                     	 Build	working	partnerships	among	CDCs	
                                                       and	other	nonprofit	organizations	to	leverage	
                                                       available	nonprofit	resources	by	dividing	tasks	
                                                       and	responsibilities,	sharing	information,	and	
                                                       skills,	and	coordinating	priorities.
 no single entity, sector, or industry can
 solve a community’s vacant and abandoned
 property problems on its own.
	 Give	vacant	and	abandoned	properties	               Roles for the real estate, finance,
  priority	in	neighborhood	strategies,	focusing	      and development sectors
  both	on	prevention	of	abandonment	and		             	 Developers:	partner	with	local	government	
  reuse	of	vacant	properties.                           and	nonprofits	to	develop	properties	in	ways	
                                                        that	advance	neighborhood	stabilization		
	 Partner	with	city	government	agencies	and	
                                                        and	revitalization	efforts.
  others	to	plan	and	execute	strategies	to	

                                                                                                            Framing	a	Policy	Agenda
  prevent	abandonment	and	address	vacant	             	 Realtors:	partner	with	local	government	and	
  properties	within	the	community.	                     nonprofits	to	identify	potential	uses	for	vacant	
                                                        properties,	and	develop	market-building	
Roles for foundations and                               strategies	for	communities	and	target	
other private sector funders
	 Coordinate	with	other	stakeholders	to	
  ensure	that	each	foundation’s	investments	in	        	 Lenders	and	servicers:	work	with	local	            43
  community	revitalization	complement	and	               governments	and	nonprofits	to	ensure		

                                                                                                            Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
  leverage	public	sector	and	nonprofit	efforts,	         that	foreclosed	properties	are	maintained	
  reflecting	shared	geographic	and	program-              during	foreclosure,	and	are	conveyed	to	
  matic	priorities.	                                     responsible	owners	after	foreclosure	sale.	

	 Help	build	capacity	in	local	government	and	        	 Lenders:	ensure	that	adequate	mortgage	
  the	nonprofit	sector	to	plan	and	implement	           capital	is	available	to	support	creditworthy	
  effective	multi-faceted	vacant	and	abandoned	         homebuyers	and	finance	sound	community	
  property	initiatives,	integrated	into	larger	         and	economic	development	projects.	
  revitalization	strategies.	

	 Make	a	commitment	to	long-term	support	for	
  these	initiatives,	recognizing	that	these	are	
  long-term	efforts,	and	that	adequate	alternative	
  funding	resources	are	unlikely	to	become	
  available	in	the	foreseeable	future.	

	 Link	funding	decisions	to	grantees’	willingness	
  to	create	effective	partnerships	and	address	
  systemic	challenges.
The scope and
of thousands of
local stakeholders
is little short of
At the same time,
it is not enough.
Vacant	and	abandoned	properties	are	eroding	the	economic	and	social	fabric	of		
communities	across	the	United	States.	Like	no	time	in	American	history,	the	confluence	
of	disasters	in	the	economy,	housing,	and	employment	markets	ensure	that	no		
community	is	immune	from	the	threats	of	foreclosure,	vacancy	and	abandonment.		
At	the	same	time,	the	magnitude	of	the	crisis,	as	well	as	the	infusion	of	new	resources	
such	as	the	federal	Neighborhood	Stabilization	Program,	have	unleashed	a	wave		
of	creative	energy	on	the	part	of	local	governments,	community	development		
corporations,	and	many	others	confronting	the	crisis	in	their	communities.	

The	scope	and	determination	of	thousands	of	             for	families	rich	and	poor,	while	obsolete	factories	      45
local	stakeholders	is	little	short	of	awe-inspiring.		   and	office	buildings	can	become	lofts	and	
At	the	same	time,	it	is	not	enough.	Their	efforts		      apartments,	or	incubators	for	small	businesses	
are	often	scattered,	small	in	scale,	and	unlikely	to		   and	emerging	technologies.	Older	cities	that	have	
lead	to	long-term,	sustained	change.	Policymakers	       been	losing	population	may	become	smaller,		
and	community	leaders	across	the	country	need	           but	they	can	become	healthier	and	greener	cities,	
to	go	beyond	these	efforts,	recognize	the	magni-         with	community	spaces,	farms,	and	stream	
tude	of	the	problem,	and	focus	on	the	funda-             corridors	replacing	blighted	areas.	
mental	changes	in	laws,	policies	and	practices	that	
                                                         This	can	be	a	reality,	not	just	in	a	handful	of	places,	
are	needed	if	we	are	to	tackle	the	problem	at	the	
                                                         but	in	cities	and	neighborhoods	throughout	the	
scale	it	demands.	
                                                         United	States.	If	we	forge	strong,	vital	partnerships	
Above	all,	we	need	to	focus	on	vacant	and	               for	systemic	reform,	engaging	the	public	and	
abandoned	properties	not	just	as	a	problem,		            private	sectors	and	cutting	across	municipal	
but	as	a	resource,	one	that	we	can	use	to	build	         boundaries,	we	can	transform	America’s	commu-
stronger,	healthier	communities.	In	many	cities,	        nities,	coming	out	of	today’s	crisis	a	stronger,	
vacant	houses	can	be	turned	back	into	homes		            healthier	nation.	
1.	   We	use	the	terms	vacant,	abandoned	and	problem	proper-               4.	 These	data	are	gathered	quarterly	by	the	U.S.	Postal	Service	
      ties	to	refer	to	the	properties	that	are	our	concern,	but	these	         under	an	agreement	with	the	Department	of	Housing	&	
      terms	are	often	used	to	mean	very	different	things.	Vacant	              Urban	Development.	Posted	on	the	HUD	User	web	site,	the	
      merely	conveys	that	the	property	is	empty,	but	many	vacant	              data	are	aggregated	from	forms	submitted	by	postal	work-
      properties	still	have	a	use	or	a	responsible	owner	taking	               ers;	while	it	is	subject	to	variability,	it	offers	a	usable	data	
      care	of	it.	Examples	of	such	vacant	properties	include	are	              base,	but	one	that	is	subject	to	important	qualifications.	The	
      vacation	homes	that	are	temporarily	unoccupied,	houses	                  data	distinguishes	between	vacant	properties,	which	have	
      between	owners	while	actively	being	marketed,	or	houses	                 been	vacant	for	90	days	or	more,	and	no-stat	properties,	
      about	to	be	rehabilitated	by	a	non-profit.	Being	vacant	is	              which	include	(1)	addresses	for	businesses	or	homes	under	
      a	condition	of	the	property,	not	a	legal	status.	Abandoned               construction	and	not	yet	occupied	and	(2)	addresses	in	
      properties	are	the	properties	whose	owner	has	stopped	tak-               urban	areas	identified	by	a	carrier	as	not	likely	to	be	active	
      ing	responsibility	for	the	property,	such	as	not	maintaining	            for	some	time.	In	cities	like	Flint	or	Detroit,	the	sum	of	those	
      it	or	failing	to	pay	property	taxes.	Abandoned	properties	are	           two	categories	is	a	good	reflection	of	vacant—and	in	most	
      usually	vacant	as	well,	but	not	always,	as	when	a	landlord	              cases	abandoned—properties.	In	cities	with	large	amounts	
      walks	away	from	a	building	which	still	has	tenants	living	in	            of	construction	under	way,	or	with	large	concentrations	
      it.	In	contrast	to	vacancy,	abandonment	has	a	legal	as	well	             of	second	homes,	however,	the	data	are	less	meaningful	
      as	descriptive	meaning.	Problem	properties	are	properties	               for	these	purposes.	For	more	information	see	http://www.
      that	are	causing	problems	for	their	neighbors	and	the	com-     	
      munity.	While	many	problem	properties	are	vacant	or	aban-
                                                                           5.	 Although	the	USPS	started	providing	vacancy	data	sets	in	
      doned,	others,	such	as	properties	where	criminal	activity	is	
                                                                               2005,	business	addresses	were	only	separated	starting	
      taking	place,	may	not	be.	Still,	occupied	problem	properties	
                                                                               in	2008.
      are	more	than	likely	to	be	on	a	path	to	abandonment	if	not	
      dealt	with	in	time.	In	this	report,	though,	we	will	use	these	       6.	 Reuters	(January	2010)

      terms	interchangeably.	When	we	talk	about	vacant	proper-                 idUSN058150520100106.

      ties,	though,	we	will	not	be	referring	to	those	“innocent”	          7.	 Reuters	(April	2010)
      vacant	properties	like	second	homes,	but	to	those	that	are	              TRE6340FH20100405.
      also	problems	for	the	community.
                                                                           8.	 Crain’s Chicago Business	(January	2010)	http://www.
2.	 Detroit,	in	particular	has	benefited	(or	suffered)	from	media	
      attention	in	the	past	year	or	two,	including	a	cover	story	
      in	Time	magazine.	A	writer	for	a	local	online	magazine	              9.	 Washington Business Journal	(March	2010)	http://wash-
      recently	wrote	that	“Detroit	is	being	descended	on	by	a	       
      plague	of	reporters.	If	you	live	on	a	block	near	one	of	the	             story8.html.
      city’s	tens	of	thousands	of	abandoned	buildings,	you	can’t	          10.	 Star Tribune	(August	2010)
      toss	a	chunk	of	Fordite	without	hitting	some	schmuck	with	               business/99630514.html.
      a	camera	worth	more	than	your	house.”	(Quoted	in	John	
                                                                           11.	 The	problem	is	not	unique	to	the	large	industrial	cities	
      Gallagher,	Reimagining Detroit,	forthcoming	later	in	2010).	
                                                                               of	the	Midwest.	Many	smaller	communities	around	the	
      Cleveland	was	also	the	subject	of	a	cover	story,	in	the	New
                                                                               country,	including	mill	towns	in	the	south,	mining	towns	in	
      York Times Magazine.	
                                                                               the	West,	or	farm	market	centers	in	the	Prairie	states	have	
3.	 Although	some	increase	between	2000	and	2008	can	be	                       experienced	similar	population	loss	as	they	lost	the	activity	
      expected,	the	increase	reflected	in	these	data	appears	                  that	provided	them	with	an	economic	base.		
      unusually	large.	This	is	hard	to	interpret,	since	the	definitions	
      used	in	both	datasets	are	comparable.
12.	 Testimony	to	the	Committee	on	the	Budget,	U.S.	House	             20.	 Sec.	2301	of	the	Housing	&	Economic	Recovery	Act	of	
    of	Representatives,	June	9,	2010	available	at	http://                  2008,	entitled	in	the	legislation	“emergency	assistance	for                    the	redevelopment	of	abandoned	and	foreclosed	homes”	
    ke20100609a.htm                                                        and	subsequently	renamed	the	Neighborhood	Stabiliza-
                                                                           tion	Program	(NSP)	by	HUD,	appropriated	$3.92	billion	for	
13.	 National	League	of	Cities,	“Significant	Budget	Shortfalls	
                                                                           this	purpose.	After	an	additional	$2	billion	was	appropri-
    Could	Mean	More	Job	Losses,”	Press	Release,	May	24,	
                                                                           ated	for	similar	activities	(but	under	different	ground	rules)	
    2010,	available	at
                                                                           in	the	American	Recovery	and	Reinvestment	Act	(ARRA),	
                                                                           also	known	as	the	economic	stimulus	bill,	the	first	program	
14.	 “Dirt	into	Dollars:	Converting	Vacant	Land	Into	Valuable	
                                                                           came	to	be	known	as	NSP1	and	the	second	as	NSP2.	
    Development.”	Brookings Review,	18	no.3,	Summer	2000.	
                                                                       21.	 An	example	of	this	comes	from	the	July	2010	Wall	Street	
15.	 NEO	CANDO	is	a	free	and	publicly	accessible	social	and	
                                                                           Reform	and	Consumer	Protection	Act.	The	initial	NSP	
    economic	data	system	that	allows	users	to	access	data	for	
                                                                           program	only	allowed	rehabilitation	or	redevelopment	of	
    the	entire	17	county	Northeast	Ohio	region,	or	for	specific	
                                                                           foreclosed	or	abandoned	properties	to	qualify	for	the	re-
    neighborhoods	within	Cleveland,	maintained	by	the	Case	
                                                                           quired	low-income	set-aide.	The	financial	reform	bill	made	
    Western	Reserve	University’s	Mandel	School	of	Applied	
                                                                           it	possible	to	include	vacant	properties	as	well,	opening	up	
    Social	Sciences	Center	on	Urban	Poverty	and	Community	

                                                                           the	potential	to	develop	multi-family	units	and	other	afford-
                                                                           able	housing	on	vacant	land	and	other	vacant	properties.
16.	 Chula	Vista	took	this	action	on	the	basis	of	its	powers	
                                                                       22.	 National	Economic	Council,	“Auto	Communities	and	the	
    under	the	California	home	rule	statute,	which	gives	cities	
                                                                           Next	Economy,”	Remarks,	May	18,	2010,	available	at	http://
    broad	discretion	to	enact	ordinances	to	further	health	and	

                                                                                                                                             Restoring	Properties,	Rebuilding	Communities
    safety.	In	many	states,	a	municipality	would	not	have	the	le-
    gal	authority	to	enact	such	an	ordinance	in	the	absence	of	
    a	state	enabling	statute.	New	Haven	enacted	its	ordinance	
    without	a	state	law.	Subsequently,	the	Connecticut	legisla-
    ture	enacted	a	law	which	effectively	prevented	cities	and	
    towns	from	enacting	such	ordinances,	but	grandfathered	
    New	Haven’s	ordinance.	

17.	 In	1993,	the	then	Detroit	City	Ombudsman,	the	well-
    respected	civic	leader	Marie	Farrell-Donaldson,	suggested	
    that	large	vacant	areas	of	the	city	return	to	green	uses.	Her	
    suggestion	was	greeted	with	a	mixture	of	ridicule	and	out-
    rage,	and	quickly	shelved.	Today,	this	is	official	city	policy.	

18.	 Center	for	Housing	Policy,	“A	Heavy	Load:	The	Combined	
    Housing	and	Transportation	Burdens	of	Working	Families,”	
    October	2006,	available	at

19.	 U.S.	Environmental	Protection	Agency,	“Residential	
    Construction	Trends	in	America’s	Metropolitan	Regions,”	
    available	at
Photo Credits
Cover:	   Peter	L.	French
Page	1:	 GTECH
Page	3:	 JR	Leonard
Page	4:		 Soffer	Organization
Page	6:	 JR	Leonard
Page	8:	 JR	Leonard
Page	14:	 JR	Leonard
Page	18:	 Inman	News
Page	21:	 JR	Leonard		
Page	22:	 Brian	Lincoln	for	Proud	Ground
Page	33:	 Jackson	Hill
Page	38:		 Positively	Cleveland
Page	41:	 East	Bay	Asian	Local	Development	Corporation
Page	42:	 Greater	Ohio	Policy	Center
Page	44:	 Carol	Yarrow	for	Proud	Ground
Page	47:	 JR	Leonard
Page	48:	 GTECH
The mission of the Center for Community Progress is to create vibrant
communities primarily through the reuse of vacant, abandoned, and problem
properties in America’s cities and towns. Community Progress helps local
and state governments seize the potential of these properties for the
economic and social benefit of their communities. We help leaders advocate
for and implement the policy changes to prevent abandonment and to
reuse these properties.

421 Garland Street, Suite A
Flint, Michigan 48503

1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 1235
Washington, D.C. 20036

(877) 542-4842

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