Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, 2016, September 28th - 30th, Baltimore, Maryland

The Center for Community Progress, which focuses on assisting communities in dealing with property abandonment in the face of weak real estate markets and broken economies, sponsors a national conference on the topic each year.

Next month, the 2016 conference will be held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Early bird registration rates are available through the end of August, which saves $200 over the cost of a regular registration.

-- Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference (RVP) 2016
When I first heard about the organization, based on actions in Genessee County and Flint Michigan ("The Man Who Owns Flint," Governing magazine and "Not just Flint: Philadelphia wrestles with vacant property, tax cheats, Flint Journal) I was somewhat horrified, because the national press seized on their work as an example of widespread demolition being "the only solution" for inner city neighborhoods when the reality is much more nuanced.

Once a building is demolished, it's gone.

The west side of the 800 block of 10th Street NE in the H Street neighborhood of Washington, DC had been frame houses.  Most were demolished in favor of a community development corporation ersatz brick rowhouse project constructed about 15 years ago.  

Next to the still standing Italianate frame rowhouse was a similar building, which the city condemned sometime around 2002, and the building was demolished.  Had it been renovated, today it would be worth close to $1 million.  Instead, there has been a vacant lot for almost 15 years.  Google Street View image.

Some neighborhoods are capable of recovery, even if over long periods of time. And demolition doesn't cure the real problem, which is disinvestment. Instead it creates a different problem, vacant land.

In 2002, I learned about how the State of Ohio has a strong receivership statute, which allows for nonprofits to take over vacant properties, and when properly "cured" (fixed up), they can be awarded the property and it can be resold. The Cleveland Restoration Society did this a lot to help to stabilize neighborhoods, fixing up historic properties and then selling them to people committed to living in the property going forward. This has helped to stabilize neighborhoods that otherwise would have declined in the face of the region's population shrinkage.

Alan Mallach's book Bringing Buildings Back is an excellent primer on neighborhood stabilization through focused attention on vacant properties.

-- "Bringing buildings back is really about bringing neighborhoods back" (2006)

In DC, for a number of years I testified in favor of creating a similar statute here -- because most properties in DC neighborhoods are capable of being restored as the real estate market even 15 years ago was comparatively strong -- but the City Council never seemed too interested. Instead, the City Government is the prime actor in dealing with vacant properties, and for various reasons it isn't particularly successful.

-- "Slumlording isn't always so simple" (2014)
-- "Pushing rehabilitation of vacant buildings/nuisance properties" (2012)
-- ""Why I hate DC" or the appropriate tactical strategy to apply to nuisance properties/ disinvestment is investment, not demolition" (2009)

Fortunately, the Center for Community Progress promotes nuanced responses to the vacant property problem, even if that isn't always communicated in media coverage.

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