The current foreclosure crisis has rapidly expanded the amount of vacant property throughout the state. According the Census Bureau data, Michigan saw an increase of 82.5% in non-seasonal vacant properties between 2000 and 2010. These vacant properties increase public safety costs and lower tax revenues due to the decline in value of surrounding properties – which have shown to devalue by as much as $17,000 per property. Other costs to deal with vacant properties are imposed on local governments. In fact, Detroit alone spent $20 million since May 2009 to demolish 4,000 vacant structures, which represents only 4% of all vacant homes and properties.
The General Accounting Office undertook a comprehensive review (pdf) of vacant property growth and strategies to deal with their problems in November 2011. It noted that cities and states implement a variety of strategies to minimize the negative impacts of vacant properties, but face various challenges. Some local governments are creating special entities called land banks to acquire and hold vacant properties for later development, sale, or demolition. However, difficulty obtaining adequate and sustained funding and finding buyers for the properties can hamper these local efforts. Some cities have passed ordinances that require servicers to notify the city when a property they are managing becomes vacant and attempt to hold them responsible for maintenance. However, localities often lack resources or staff to enforce these requirements fully. Some suggest that fewer properties would become vacant if servicers had to account for communities’ costs—such as for policing and fire—when considering whether to modify loans or foreclose. Servicers and others, however, often question the feasibility and effectiveness of such an approach. Local officials and community groups said they need more funds and increased oversight by federal regulators to ensure that servicers comply with local property maintenance codes.
In addition to these governmental strategies, innovative community organizations have had tremendous success in tackling vacant properties. From boarding up vacant homes, marketing vacant properties to new homebuyers, developing neighborhood response systems to prevent property strippers and vandals, to developing community gardens in vacant open spaces – residents, community development corporations, and neighborhood associations across Michigan have pioneered some of the most innovative and effective means of limiting the impacts of vacant properties.