Vacant and abandoned properties in the U.S. are on the rise. For many communities, vacant properties have a negative impact on overall property values and may even increase the prevalence of crime. Many municipalities are struggling to restore these buildings and bring them back to life. It’s a long road and without the right tools and resources, communities will have trouble transforming these properties from liabilities into assets.
Earlier this fall, we attended Center for Community Progress’ Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. Judging from the conversations at the conference, it’s clear that communities across the country, both small and large, are dealing with vacant and abandoned properties.
Fortunately, great insights were shared that will change the way communities address and rehabilitate abandoned properties. Here six insights we took away that may be helpful to your community:
Data, data, data.
Many communities struggle to prioritize vacant properties and identify areas with the highest impact. For some, vacant property data is scattered across multiple departments: police, code enforcement, water department, health department, etc. Compiling this historic data in one central place will help the community determine where to focus its efforts (and funding). Harvard University developed a tool called City Nexus to aggregate this data in one location across departments. While data doesn’t solve the problem, it’s a first step to sharing information across multiple departments and bringing resources to areas that are hardest hit.
Consider the 25:25:50 formula.
It’s no surprise that obtaining funding is one of the biggest challenges communities face. Without the proper financing, it’s nearly impossible to rehabilitate and restore vacant properties. At the conference, we learned that funding for these projects is usually driven through foundations, banks and tax credits. How much funding should you secure from each? Consider this formula: 25% from corporations, 25% from foundation and 50% from municipal budget. To save money, some leaders suggest that municipalities complete their own demolition of the properties. Regardless of the approach, the message is clear: getting local foundation support and seed funding is a necessary catalyst to making abandoned properties valuable again.
Leadership buy-in is key.
Communities with leaders committed to eliminating vacant and abandoned properties usually have the most success. Strong leaders can bring stakeholders together and accomplish more with greater efficiency and less overlap. When city leaders show that they care about the people in the community, the community typically rises up.
Focus on quality of life, not only job creation.
One of the biggest concerns on the minds of municipalities is whether abandoned and vacant properties will make a community less attractive to current and potential residents. The solution? Invest in tangible items, such as parks, infrastructure, trails and other public spaces. Focus on quality of life issues that encourage people to live in a community, rather than only on creating jobs. In turn, this will increase the public’s confidence and engagement in their community.
Target investors with a vested interest in the community.
Contrary to popular belief, investors aren’t the only solution to the vacant and abandoned property problem. Communities need to find investors with a vested interest in the community such as homeowners and potential long term residents.
Use vacant lots to create community gardens and assets.
Many cities are dealing with an excess of vacant land after a demolition. Some are transforming vacant lots to create community gardens and other public assets like parks and walking trails. For example, Lot’s to Love in Pittsburgh has partnered with Greenspace Alliance to repurpose vacant lots into open space that is environmentally friendly. This open space also adds value to the community and encourages residents to get out and enjoy their surroundings.
Market your neighborhood.
Once abandoned and vacant properties have been restored and your community is moving forward, the work isn’t done. You need to market your community and create a shared identity that people can get behind.
Some marketing strategies to consider are:
Create relationships with realtors and highlight the strengths of the neighborhood
Form strategic partnerships with large employers or non-profits
Curate an overarching message about the neighborhood via social media, traditional media and word of mouth
Host events such as pop-up markets and festivals to create a sense of community
Ask residents for their feedback regarding hot topics in the community
Remember, you don’t want people to choose your neighborhood just because it’s affordable. You want them to choose your neighborhood because they want to be part of the greater community.
The bottom line
Vacant and abandoned properties aren’t just an economic challenge – they’re also a geographical and organizational one. It takes a village to restore these properties into assets that are valuable for the entire community. That’s why every member of the community should get involved in making their neighborhood a better place – both now and for the future.
Have questions about vacant or abandoned properties in your community? Need help finding funding for rehabilitation and recovery efforts? Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.