Solving Cities

10 million vacant properties plague U.S. cities

10 million vacant properties plague U.S. cities

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The number of vacant properties in U.S. cities is on the rise and they're taking a toll on our cities. Find out what some cities are doing about it.

The number of vacant properties in U.S. cities is on the rise and they're taking a toll on our cities.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the number of vacant properties has risen from 7 million in 2000 to 10 million in 2010. American City & County breaks down the financial impact they're having on our cities:

In 2010, government-sponsored enterprises reimbursed servicers or vendors more than $953 million for property maintenance costs, but local governments are bearing a considerable amount of the expense, as well. Detroit alone has spent $20 million since May 2009 to raze 4,000 properties.

To maintain vacant properties, local governments are spending money on boarding them, mowing lawns, draining pools and removing debris. Chicago reported spending nearly $875,000 in 2010 to board up 627 properties. Detroit owns approximately 40,000 vacant lots and 5,000 properties, and spends $25 each time one of them is mowed.

Some cities are placing liens on the properties to cover the costs, but the results have been mixed. In Baltimore they're getting enough money to cover the cost, whereas cities like Detroit hardly recieve enough money to make it worth the time. Cities are also taking advantage of federal money to help cover the costs. But some cities are also using forward thinking strategies to deal with the epidemic.

These cities are using land banking strategies to deal with the problem in a much more strategic way. According to the report, land banks "can help stabilize a neighborhood from further decline by either maintaining homes adequately for future development or demolishing properties as quickly as possible and tapping into other potential uses, such as urban gardens, parks, and other green spaces."

Eventually, land banks can create value for nearby homes and the community. Learn more about land banks in Cleveland and Flint, Mich.

Photo: sashafatcat/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure