American Jobs Act's Project Rebuild Aims to Revitalize Vacant Homes

Originally posted on Huffington Post.

When the housing bubble popped in 2009, it left many American communities with foreclosed and vacant homes and businesses.

The American Jobs Act would help restore thousands of these abandoned properties and put construction workers back to work in the process with Project Rebuild. The $15 billion project would create thousands of jobs to tear down abandoned properties, renovate foreclosed homes and maintain abandoned properties until they can be sold once again. Intended to initially help communities with the largest number of foreclosed properties, Project Rebuild would create much-needed jobs and energize the country’s blighted communities at the same time. Key components of the project include:

  • Stabilizing communities by focusing on distressed commercial properties and redevelopment;
  • Federal funding to support for-profit development — when consistent with project aims and subject to strict oversight requirements;
  • Increased support for “land banking”;
  • Establishing property maintenance programs to create jobs and mitigate “visible scars” left by vacant/abandoned properties.

It can be difficult for a city to recover when, on top of unemployment, homes are boarded up or downtown is empty. Vacant properties can weigh down the value of nearby homes, increase neighborhood blight and crime, and stand in the way of economic recovery. Project Rebuild’s strategies are exactly how smart growth can help communities facing these challenges.

Communities are already using all of Project Rebuild’s strategies with great success. Between 2005 to 2009, foreclosure rates rose rapidly in greater Cleveland, Ohio, resulting in tens of thousands of vacant or abandoned properties. These unproductive areas of the city lowered property values and scared away businesses. In response to the crisis, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank was formed to revitalize neighborhoods, improve the local economy, and create jobs. The quasi-governmental organization takes land off the books of lenders if they agree pay for demolition of the properties.

New York State has also used the strategies outlined in Project Rebuild. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Land Bank Act into law on August 1, giving local governments across the state a critical tool to return vacant and abandoned properties to productive, income-generating use. Land banks can promote reuse of existing land, spur downtown investment, and speed neighborhood revitalization. And land banks put control in the hands of local leaders, making it possible to work with specific community circumstances and goals.

Vacant property revitalization is just one of the smart growth strategies included in the American Jobs Act. The bill also includes strong funding for public transportation projects, as well as road repair — both of which have been proven to create more jobs per dollar than new highway construction. Smart Growth America’s analysis of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act revealed that public transportation projects created 70% more job hours per dollar than highway projects. In addition, studies of transportation job creation show that on average, road repair produces 16% more jobs per dollar than new road construction. Both these types of transportation infrastructure projects mean this bill will help communities above and beyond its direct job creation potential.

The American Jobs Act recognizes that America’s towns and cities are a worthy investment. The proposed investments in transportation choices, land banks and vacant property redevelopment as well as the federal grant programs that support these strategies are exactly what many struggling communities have been waiting for. Congress should pass this bill to put thousands of Americans back to work now and rebuild the country’s economy for years to come.