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Do We Need to Bulldoze Some Neighborhoods?
by David Stanowski &
Jacquelyn Tarpy
31 May 2011

City Council needs to examine our vacant housing problem, and develop and implement policies to reduce its impact on the City. Vacant buildings increase crime, and create fire, health, and safety hazards, taxing the resources of public safety agencies, while decreasing the property taxes collected around them needed to pay these additional costs.

A study in Austin, Texas found that police intervention was required much more often where there were vacant buildings. Blocks with unsecured buildings had 3.2 times as many drug calls, 1.8 times as many theft calls, and twice the number of violent calls as did blocks without vacant buildings.”

12,000 fires start in vacant buildings each year, about 6,000 firefighters are injured in these fires, and they result in approximately $73 million in property damage.
Vacant Building Fires
Vacant Buildings Fire Report

"You cannot reclaim a viable [housing] market in the city until you start to tackle vacant properties."
Studying vacant housing

“A 2001 study in Philadelphia found that houses within 150 feet of a vacant or abandoned property experienced a net loss of $7,627 in value.”
Vacant Properties: the True Cost to the Community

Currently, there are 32,368 housing units in this city, and 12,425, or 38%, are vacant! If approximately 5,000 are second homes, then about 7,425, or 23%, may be “distressed units”. A vacant unit that is not being used is “distressed”, because it has trapped the owner’s capital, even as it has on-going costs, but generates no income. If the average value of these units is $50,000, then $371.25 million is trapped in Island residential real estate! Any city of this size would find it difficult to prosper with that amount of capital trapped in unproductive uses.

Some vacant units are surely in good condition, but there is just not enough demand to fill them. Many people believe that there is little demand for others, even if they are upgraded by existing or subsequent owners, so further investment in them will not be profitable. 

If Council confirms that these assumptions are true, some of the roughly 7,000 vacant units will need to be demolished, but how will this be accomplished, and at what cost? Flint, Michigan has pioneered the idea of bulldozing some neighborhoods due to its severe vacant housing problem. In Flint, they don’t plan to replace demolished units, but building new units might attract new residents in Galveston.
US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive

Detroit looks at downsizing to save city

GHA’s plan to build as many as 1,727 housing units (scattered sites, mixed-income and project-based vouchers) will further complicate this problem. Building new units without a City demolition program, or an influx of new residents, will simply increase the number of vacant housing units. “Federal policy should move away from producing more housing in distressed older cities and focus on upgrading the existing housing stock…” Facing the Urban Challenge

The planned proliferation of subsidized housing is hardly the way to achieve population growth, because it will most likely drive more people out of the City.

“The next few years may be some cities’ last opportunity to begin rebuilding before the cumulative weight of abandonment, poverty, and disinvestment engulfs even their strongest neighborhoods.” 

Facing the Urban Challenge

Learn Purchase Real Estate for Cents on the Dollar!

National Vacant Properties Campaign

NVPC - Resources

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