By Schilling, Joseph
Public Management , Vol. 84, No. 3
Virtually every city and town has a derelict apartment building, boarded storefront, or vacant lot. Vacant properties contain an array of conditions (illegally dumped refuse, leaking sewage, and fire hazards) that pose a serious threat to public health and safety. They also strain municipal budgets and the resources of local police, fire, building, and health departments. To abate and rehabilitate these neighborhood eyesores, a number of cities have created innovative programs. A few cities have gone further by making vacant property revitalization an integral part of their infill development and affordable housing strategies tinder the Smart Growth rubric.
These were just a few of the issues raised at a brown-bag policy forum hosted by ICMA's Vacant Properties Network in January. Over 25 government officials (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Maryland, and the cities of Baltimore, Richmond, and the District of Columbia) and representatives from housing and community development organizations (LISC, Fannie Mae Foundation, Environmental Law Institute) shared their national and local experiences with the revitalization of vacant properties and provided feedback on the Network's research efforts.
The discussion focused on the cross-cutting results from three case studies recently completed by ICMA's Smart Growth Study Team: Portland, Oregon, Richmond, Virginia, and San Diego, California. The ICMA team spent 18 months working closely with city staff and other stakeholders to identify the practical lessons learned from these three programs. One of the goals was to find ways that cities can include vacant properties as part of their broader initiatives to promote smart growth. ICMA wanted to help local officials understand the stages of vacant property revitalization and the critical need for holistic programs and policies,--and the right personnel and resources to implement them.
Here are a few highlights from the case studies:
* Portland: The city overcame a vacant property crisis (more than 2,900 properties in 1988) by formally linking vacant property revitalization with its regional planning and affordable housing strategies. Portland also formed critical partnerships with local community development corporations (CDCs). As a result, the Portland Development Commission transferred vacant properties to local CDCs for affordable housing projects. …