The Curse of Urban Blight

Detroit doesn’t have a corner of the market when it comes to urban blight. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis and even New York all have their share of neighborhoods suffering urban decay. Interestingly, the cities that show up on the lists with high numbers of vacant properties due either to urban decline or to properties kept intentionally off the market for the purpose of speculation are also the cities where you find a different type of decay in the fabric of local government.

After Red Hook was hit by hurricane Sandy a fair amount of our affordable housing stock was lost. Meanwhile, there a large number of buildings, including the one pictured above, that have sat empty for years, marring the face of the community. The idea of these buildings left vacant while our neighbors are forced to move out of the neighborhood or simply rendered homeless as a result of the storm heightens a need to rethink regulations about land and property speculation.

The debate over the vacant property count and the number of homeless people in the city has been going on for years in New York City. There are over 3500 vacant buildings according to a study sponsored by Picture the Homeless. These vacant properties could house over 70,000 people. In a city that spends nearly $3,000 per individual per month the costs add up quickly. Coalition for the Homeless sets the count of individuals in the NYC shelter system at around 46,000.

What also should be considered is the cost to cities of having this building left vacant. An article in The Pittsburg Quarterly mentions a Philadelphia study on the cost of blight that showed vacant property reduces market values by 6.5 percent citywide and by as much as 20 percent in neighborhoods with the most empty lots and structures. The report estimated that the cities tax delinquent properties translated to $2 million each year the city was being robbed.