Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The problem of abandoned houses didn’t just arise with the current foreclosure boom. In cities with depressed economies, such as Flint, Mich. (the subject of Michael Moore’s film "Roger and Me"), and New Orleans (which had thousands of empty houses even before Katrina), abandoned properties have long been local sore points, in that they attract crime and decrease the values of nearby occupied properties, pushing the communities into downward spirals. If local government is allowed to steer development through land use law, it certainly should be allowed to take steps to solve the social problem of abandoned property.
As NPR reported this morning, Genesee County, Mich., which includes Flint, is encouraging, through a county land bank, alternative uses for abandoned houses. A property that is foreclosed for non-payment of taxes can be re-sold for one dollar to neighbors and other organizations that pledge to tear down unused buildings and turn them into community-friendly places, such as gardens, parks, etc. This system often results in better uses for land than with properties sold at auction, at which houses are often bought by speculators who have no immediate plans to do anything with the property.
It is truly a remarkable society in which development in a former large city can turn into a plot of gardenias and sunflowers. But the globalized economy demands that Flint “downsize,” and it makes sense for government to control its downsizing in a least-painful manner.