Vacant Land- Peer Cities and Best Practices
Cities that lost population in the second half of the 20th Century have been working to reactivate thousands of parcels of vacant land for decades. They have created land banks, assembled large sites for major community revitalization projects, and encouraged the use of small vacant lots for sideyards or community gardens. More recently, growing cities like LasVegas and Phoenix also have begun to address the negative impacts of vacant real estate as they struggle with unprecedented rates of mortgage foreclosure.
Philadelphia is certainly not alone in its quest to bring tens of thousands of vacant properties back into productive use. Chicago, a city that has seen notable prosperity in recent years, has 12,000 vacant buildings, many of which it is seeking to demolish, and owns up to 15,000 empty lots, which it is prepared to sell to developers to build affordable housing.1 Detroit has the worst vacant land problem in the country with an estimated 40 of the city’s 139 square miles of land now vacant, an amount of land roughly the size of San Francisco or Boston.2
Peer cities have developed a number of best practices that Philadelphia should consider as it transforms its foundational principals for vacant land into an action plan to bring blighted properties back into reuse.
Click on the links below for detailed information on each practice, including references and additional resources:
- Land Banks. A land bank is a public authority or nonprofit created to efficiently acquire, hold, manage and develop vacant and abandoned properties.
- Vacant Property Registration Laws. Vacant property registration ordinances require the owner to register a property after it has been vacant for a certain number of days.
- Tax Foreclosure Law Reform. Tax foreclosure laws were created to allow the government to recover past-due taxes by selling the property to the highest bidder.
- Receivership of Nuisance Properties. Receivership gives cities and nonprofits the ability to rehabilitate dangerous properties when the property owner refuses to.
- Code Enforcement. Enforcement plays a key role in preventing abandonment of buildings by dissuading the owner from deferring maintenance until the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the property.
- Temporary Use of Vacant Lots. Vacant lots do not have to remain empty while they are held by a public entity for assembly or sale or private construction is stalled.
- Criminal Nuisance Abatement. Criminal nuisance abatement laws allow cities and residents to bring criminal charges against owners of vacant properties that house criminal activity.
- Sideyard Programs. A sideyard program offers adjacent homeowners the chance to expand their property by buying the vacant lot next door.
- Greening of Vacant Land. Philadelphia is a national best practice for cleaning and greening vacant properties to eliminate their negative impacts on surrounding property values and neighborhood quality of life.
1 James Oshea, Problem of Vacant Houses Resists Easy Solution, Chicago News Cooperative (April 3, 2010). http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/problem-of-vacant-houses-resists-easy-solution/; “Chicago’s Lots”, Zoka Zola studio for architecture and urban design website,http://www.zokazola.com/chicago_21st_Century.html
2 John Gallagher, Detroit’s fight against vacant land gets tougher, Detroit Free Press (September 29, 2009).