This is our twice-monthly round-up of news stories covering challenges related to vacant, abandoned, and problem properties — and how communities are transforming these properties into assets. (The headlines are for informational purposes only; inclusion does not indicate endorsement.) If you’d like to get this round-up in your inbox, join our email list!
Inside EB-5, the cash-for-visas program luxury developers love “Some members of Congress would like to reform EB-5 to bring the program back in line with its all-but-forgotten original intent—to direct foreign investment toward struggling communities—or scrap it altogether. The Kushner family’s embrace of the cash-for-visas program distorts it that much further.”Kriston Capps | CityLab | May 9, 2017
How homeownership became the engine of American inequality “Because of rising housing costs and stagnant wages, slightly more than half of all poor renting families in the country spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs, and at least one in four spends more than 70 percent. Yet America’s national housing policy gives affluent homeowners large benefits; middle-class homeowners, smaller benefits; and most renters, who are disproportionately poor, nothing.” Matthew Desmond | The New York Times | May 9, 2017
Supreme Court says cities can sue big banks over housing bubble damages“[Stephen] Breyer recounted the city’s argument: Predatory lending practices in minority neighborhoods led to a concentration of foreclosures. That caused stagnation and decline. ‘They hindered the city’s efforts to create integrated, stable neighborhoods. And, highly relevant here, they reduced property values, diminishing the city’s property tax revenue and increasing demand for municipal services,’ he wrote. But Breyer, joined by Roberts and liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said that only got the city into the courthouse. To prevail, the city must prove the direct causal link, and they hinted it might be difficult to do that.” Robert Barnes | The Washington Post | May 1, 2017
The unsung government program that gives federal property to the homeless“Thanks to changes in the law passed by Congress late in 2016, Title V is a more effective tool today for turning back the large (and growing) tide of homelessness in the U.S.”Kriston Capps | CityLab | April 27, 2017
New program offers Plantation residents with code violations a break “Under the program, property owners with pending fines can apply for as much as a 15 percent discount — on the condition that they fix their properties, too. Lisa J. Huriash | Sun Sentinel | May 1, 2017
South Shore is Chicago’s eviction capital“This data only presents a partial picture of the magnitude of the eviction problem, however, since it doesn’t account for what researchers call “forced moves”—those spurred by sudden spikes in rent prices and chronic maintenance problems—or for people who leave on their own after losing eviction cases in court.” Maya Dukmasova | Chicago Reader | April 17, 2017
New Montgomery law aims to crack down on vacant, poorly maintained homes “The measure calls for the county housing department to begin a registry of poorly maintained vacant properties and inspect them for code violations. Owners whose homes remain in poor condition after 90 days would be charged for each subsequent county inspection.” Bill Turque | The Washington Post | May 2, 2017
Dismissed: Tenants lose, landlords win in Baltimore’s rent court “A first-of-its-kind computer analysis of more than 5,500 complaints filed by Baltimore tenants from 2010 through November 2016 revealed that judges in rent escrow court tended to favor landlords, even when inspectors found and reported significant code violations: leaking roofs, no heat, infestations of insects or rodents, even suspected lead paint hazards.” Doug Donovan and Jean Marbella | Baltimore Sun | April 26, 2017
Detroit deal aims to tackle blight, add jobs “The Fitzgerald effort is part beautification project, part jobs training, part blight removal campaign, and aims to create work opportunities for residents.” Serena Maria Daniels | Next City | April 28, 2017
How mowing a vacant lot could pay off for Columbiana Co. residents “The land bank received a $3.2 million federal grant this year to acquire and demolish vacant homes. This new program will save the county money on mowing costs while finding prospective buyers for its growing list of properties.” Molly Reed | WKBN 27 | May 3, 2017
Cincinnati sues seller of foreclosed homes, claiming predatory behavior “In recent years, private investment firms sold foreclosed homes on high-interest installment contracts to poor Cincinnati residents who could not get traditional bank mortgages. Now, the city is cracking down, calling those who offer such deals ‘predatory’ actors targeting the ‘unsuspecting and vulnerable.’” Matthew Goldstein and Alexandra Stevenson | The New York Times | April 20, 2017
And, Lastly, a Blight Bright Spot!
Art fights blight in DeKalb neighborhoods “The county’s Barriers to Beauty program is installing heavy concrete blocks to prevent access to roads where trash and debris has been discarded. Children spray paint and color in the barriers to brighten the previously blighted areas.”Mark Niesse | Atlanta Journal Constitution | April 27, 2017