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How Vacant and Abandoned Buildings Affect the Community

April 10, 2024


Vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties—referred to by some as “blighted properties”—pose significant costs to public health, property values, local taxpayers, and more. Failure to address problem properties, just like ignoring a leaking faucet, costs more in the long run and causes more harm over time. Understanding the true and complete costs of blighted properties is critical in building the case to reform the broken status quo and implement more equitable, efficient, and effective solutions.

How Vacant and Abandoned Buildings Harm Public Health

Physical health: Individuals living in substandard housing can be exposed to dangerous toxins such as mold, lead, and asbestos, increasing the risk for asthma, cardiovascular disease, increased aggression, learning disabilities, sexually transmitted diseases, and poor health outcomes.

Emotional wellbeing: Visual evidence of vacancy and neighborhood disinvestment—such as boarded up properties, trash and dumping, and overgrown weeds—has been shown to harm the mental health of neighbors, putting them at greater risk of sadness, depression, stress, and elevated rates of intentional injury.

Violence and crime: Studies have shown that violent crime, including assaults and gun-related crimes, increase in disinvested neighborhoods with vacant and abandoned properties.

How Vacant and Abandoned Buildings Harm Individual Wealth

Property equity: Owning a property is often an individual’s greatest investment and financial asset. Research has consistently shown that vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties reduce the value of surrounding properties, leading to decreases in owners’ equity and personal wealth. For example, In Cleveland, Ohio, properties within 500 feet of a vacant, tax-delinquent, and foreclosed property lost 9.4 percent of their value.

Financial liabilities: Homeowners within close proximity to abandoned properties are often charged higher insurance premiums or even face policy cancellations because of the unstable nature of the neighborhood created by the vacant properties leaving homeowners with greater financial liabilities.

How Vacant and Abandoned Buildings Harm Public Finances

Municipal revenue: Property taxes are typically the largest source of revenue for local governments. Research has shown vacant and abandoned properties lead to a decrease in taxable values of surrounding properties and increase the likelihood of mortgage and tax foreclosures nearby creating a harmful domino effect that creates revenue challenges for local governments. For example, the total costs of distressed vacant properties in Atlanta, Georgia, range from $55 million to $153 million in lost property values. This translates into lost property tax revenues of $1 million to $2.7 million annually.

Maintenance and abatement costs: Local governments incur the costs of remedying nuisances and unsafe conditions, including boarding and securing structures, cutting grass, removing trash and debris, and demolishing unsafe structures. For instance, Toledo, Ohio spent $3.8 million in 2016 on services related to VAD properties, including $1 million on code enforcement, $800,000 on nuisance abatement, $600,000 on police dispatch, and $1.4 million on fire dispatch.

Public safety costs: Higher violent and property crime rates and the associated costs to dispatch police and fire services to respond to these crimes are commonly associated with vacant and abandoned properties. For example, a study in Austin, Texas found that “blocks with unsecured [vacant] buildings had 3.2 times as many drug calls to police, 1.8 times as many theft calls, and twice the number of violent calls” as blocks without vacant buildings.

What Happens if You Do Nothing About Vacant and Abandoned Properties?

The costs of the status quo are significant. Inaction is not an option. Communities across the United States have shown that investing in solutions to reverse the harms caused by vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties has not only been cost-effective but generated more equitable and positive outcomes. Understanding the costs of vacancy, abandonment, and deterioration is a critical first step in addressing problem properties and honing existing strategies for more equitable, efficient, and effective outcomes.

If you’re struggling with vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties in your community, check out our free online resources, webinars, and publications. The Center for Community Progress also provides customized, expert guidance to state and local governments to assess the state of vacancy in your community and recommend policy and practice solutions for equitable neighborhood revitalization. Contact us at [email protected] to learn more!

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