Three vacant house fires over a recent three day period in a single Dayton neighborhood is a scary reminder of the negative consequences of abandoned property.
Vacant and abandoned properties are more than eyesores. They often become public nuisances, threats to public safety, and dumping grounds for trash and debris. They drain public resources, and they diminish the value of neighboring homes and businesses.
The recent enactment of land bank legislation, House Bill 313, is promising news in the fight to combat the dire effects of abandonment. This new law grants certain counties in Ohio, including Montgomery County, authority to form land banks, entities empowered to take control of vacant and abandoned properties with the goal of returning them to productive use.
Now the work begins to structure, fund and organize a county-wide land bank, but no one believes this will be the ultimate solution to the complex problems of blight and decay. A land bank is expected to be an effective tool in this work, but there are additional efforts that should be pursued.
One of the keys to developing successful, long-term strategies to deal with problem properties is better information. A comprehensive, county-wide neighborhood information system should be developed to provide timely and meaningful information regarding neighborhood trends and conditions.
A system that effectively tracks neighborhood-level data on sales, property values, population trends, delinquencies, foreclosures, vacancies, housing code violations, crime statistics and more would be a powerful resource. In the hands of decision makers and community planners, this system would aid in developing new programs and directing other resources both to deal with problem properties now and to prevent further decay.
Much of this data already exists in various formats and databases. The challenge will be to design an integrated system that allows data to be shared and makes it readily accessible.
Additionally, steps are urgently needed to revitalize the housing market in older neighborhoods where blight is most prevalent. Weak market demand in these areas contributes significantly to the abandonment of property.
With input from critical stakeholders — realtors, home builders, developers, planners, preservation advocates and neighborhood organizations — appropriate incentives should be crafted and assistance provided to revive these markets.
Special attention must be aimed toward senior homeowners in these problem areas. Data in the county auditor’s office indicates almost thirty percent of the residents of owner-occupied property in Montgomery County are 65 or older or permanently disabled. In some neighborhoods where the real estate market is the weakest, the percentage of senior homeowners is probably greater.
Efforts to re-build the housing market in targeted areas must address the specific needs of these senior homeowners. Programs that focus on housing education and counseling would benefit these homeowners as they make plans to sell or dispose of their properties in the future.
Over half the residential properties in the county decreased in value as an outcome of the last county-wide reappraisal. There are certainly many reasons for this decline, including the bad economy and the nationwide housing crisis. But the impact of blight and decay resulting from abandoned properties in certain neighborhoods cannot be denied.
Creating a county-wide land bank, developing an integrated neighborhood information system, and taking proactive steps to revitalize the real estate market in older neighborhoods are three strategic measures to be pursued as part of a comprehensive approach to the problem of abandonment.