March 4, 2008
Who’s responsible for this abandoned house?
The distressing boom in foreclosures is imposing costs on local governments, which find that many houses are abandoned, especially in poorer neighborhoods, both serving as annoyances to neighbors and attracting vandalism and crime. Some cities are resorting to demanding that creditors take more responsibility for taking care of houses on which they have foreclosed. A problem with this is that so many homeowners are simply abandoning their homes before foreclosure; most creditors don’t find it worthwhile to go after them for money that they may owe beyond the value of the house. Thus many houses may serve as local nuisances before the creditors even know that the residents have gone.
Instead of pointing fingers or filing lawsuits, I suggest that governments might consider a new land use law along these lines: When the government learns that a house appears to be abandoned, it informs the creditor, and the creditor holds an obligation to engage in basic maintenance, even if it has not yet formally taken title to the property. While this might prove to be costly for some lenders, it will also encourage creditors to take early steps to try to avoid the problem of abandoned properties.
March 3, 2008
Why aren’t you walking and shopping in our newly designed downtown?
A goal of many land use laws for the central city is to make our cities look like they did before 1950 … or like many European cities still do –- a mixture of commerce and residences, few parking lots, and retail at the street level –- all of which will encourage people to walk. But even this seemingly simple policy sometimes is hard to achieve in practice. One story from New York shows that a growing number of residents in even this ultra-dense city make a commute to the suburbs
Another problem may be the scale of modern structures. This opinion column from Seattle’s Stranger newspaper criticizes the enormity of new city-encouraged residential towers in the city. Because the buildings often take up an entire block, they impose a psychological barrier to pedestrianism, the argument goes. Retail in such a large building doesn’t prosper as it might in a block with a variety of structures, the author seems to suggest. But then again, many blocks in Paris were successfully “developed” in a uniform (monotonous?) style in the mid-19th Hausmann reconstruction, and remain inviting to walkers and shoppers. Perhaps laws need to require even more and varied retail at the street level. And perhaps the habits of Americans to avoid walking are harder to break than we thought …