In response to increasing demand for homes in close-in neighborhoods, many cities and towns are pursuing redevelopment of places that have struggled with blight and disinvestment for years. These redevelopment initiatives are frequently impeded by the presence of properties with known or suspected contamination issues, which have often remained vacant in spite of federal, state … Continued
The first ever New Life for Closed Gas Stations conference begins Tuesday, June 3, in Orlando, Florida. Gas station sites may be small, but they pack a big redevelopment punch for the neighborhoods surrounding them.
The number of gas stations in the U.S. has declined every year since 2002, and there were 23% fewer places to buy gas in 2012 than there were in 1994. Typically in highly-visible locations along commercial corridors, these sites can be an asset for investors and local governments who want to make a big impression with limited redevelopment dollars. Prominent locations and interesting architecture have made old gas stations attractive to investors seeking a strong sense of place to anchor up-and-coming blocks.
A land bank can make reusing vacant buand put them back into usefficient. Image from Take Back Vacant Land.
Members of the Pennsylvania State Senate will vote this week on proposed legislation that would make it easier to buy and redevelop blighted properties in the state.
HB 1682 would enable local leaders in Pennsylvania to establish land banks, entities that can hold and manage vacant properties to help get properties into the hands of responsible new owners more quickly. The bill passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in February and now awaits consideration by the Pennsylvania State Senate.
Across the country abandoned gas stations represent one of the trickiest problems facing small towns and big cities alike. In particular, old gas stations pose a threat to the land when their underground storage tanks begin to deteriorate, potentially leaking petroleum into the groundwater.
A recent New York Times article covered the ways in which the hamlet of High Falls, NY has sought to address the negative community impact of its abandoned gas stations. Investors have begun to clean up and redevelop these lots, and their efforts have turned unattractive, contaminated brownfields into office space, restaurants and small shops. These innovative projects are creating new ways to bring money into the local economy and are helping revitalize the community.
New guide for local leaders helps overcome barriers to address nation’s blighted properties
A new guide for town, city and county leaders outlines how to build the financial and political support needed to reclaim and redevelop the thousands of abandoned gas stations, auto body shops, and industrial facilities nationwide.
From Vacancy to Vibrancy focuses on underground storage tank (UST) sites – properties with buried or partially buried tanks that have been used to store petroleum or other hazardous substances. When gas stations, auto body shops, industrial facilities or other types of development close down, these tanks are often left behind. As they age, the tanks are prone to leakage and can contaminate both soil and groundwater, posing a serious environmental threat. The new guide takes aim at one of the primary reasons these types of properties remain vacant for so long: many officials just don’t know what to do with them.
The new resource provides an overview of the tools and strategies available to leaders who want to transform UST sites into economic and community assets.
The guide also includes information about state and federal brownfield program requirements, brownfield redevelopment financing strategies, and multi-site planning techniques. An annotated list of resources is included at the end for further exploration.
In Pennsylvania today, more than 300,000 properties stand vacant. These properties cost municipalities millions of dollars each year in maintenance costs and even more in lost revenue. In Philadelphia alone – which has some 40,000 vacant properties – the City pays $20 million each year just to maintain those properties.
Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took a major step toward turning the state’s vacant properties back into homes and businesses. On Wednesday the House passed HB 1682, a bill that would allow counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania to create land banks. Land banks are entities that can hold and manage vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties, making it faster, easier and cheaper for prospective new owners to purchase these properties and get them back into productive re-use.
In 2010, there were 10.3 million vacant homes in America. Many are vacant as a result of foreclosure, and they’re costing municipalities at a time when public budgets are already strained to the breaking point.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examines trends in the number of vacant properties, how they relate to the recent increase in foreclosures, the cost of maintaining and administering these properties and strategies for coping with the crises. GAO analyzed Census Bureau vacancy data and data on property maintenance costs from the Federal Housing Administration and two housing-related government-sponsored enterprises. The Office conducted case studies in nine cities selected to provide a range of local economic and housing conditions, rates of foreclosure, and geographic locations.
For many cities, vacant and foreclosed properties are more than just another costly expense. Tending to these properties costs money, but neglecting them can cost far more, and the report from GAO makes clear the scope of this problem. The Huffington Post explained the dilemma vacant properties pose:
While the upkeep and maintenance of a vacant home is technically the responsibility of either the homeowner or the mortgage owner, in practice it often falls to the town, which has to pay for basic services – like cutting the grass, boarding up windows and draining swimming pools – to keep the property from falling into total disrepair. Alternatively, the town can have the vacant property demolished [but] either way, the tab for cities and towns is often high. Detroit, for example, has paid $20 million to demolish 4,000 properties in the past two and a half years, the GAO found.
Communities incur costs in other ways as well. The GAO noted that vacant homes are often associated with crime and accidental fires, which require the attention of police and fire departments, thus tying up city resources. And cities often see their property taxes fall as vacant homes drive down the value of homes around them.
While vacant properties pose serious challenges to the communities faced with them, cities and states are already using great strategies to turn these properties into assets. Land banks are public authorities created to acquire, hold, manage and develop vacant properties. Land banks aim to convert vacant properties that have been neglected by the open market into productive use, and are already in use in Ohio and New York. Land banks are a great way for municipalities to deal with the high cost of vacant homes and support their local economy in the process.
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.
Smart Growth America supports President Obama’s call for federal investments that will create jobs, modernize America’s transportation infrastructure and support the country’s economy as part of the American Jobs Act. In particular, Smart Growth America supports Project Rebuild: Putting People Back to Work Rehabilitating Homes, Businesses and Communities, which has been allocated $15 billion under the proposed bill. From the White House’s description of the program:
The bursting of the housing bubble and the Great Recession that followed has left communities across the country with large numbers of foreclosed homes and businesses, which is weighing down property values, increasing blight and crime, and standing in the way of economic recovery. In these same communities there are also large numbers of people looking for work, especially in the construction industry, where more than 1.9 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The President is proposing Project Rebuild to help address both of these problems by connecting Americans looking for work in distressed communities with the work needed to repair and repurpose residential and commercial properties. Building on successful models piloted through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), Project Rebuild will invest $15 billion in proven strategies that leverage private capital and expertise to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of properties in communities across the country.
Last year, we wrote about a first-of-its-kind agreement forged by the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Land Bank and Fannie Mae, the national mortgage lender that owns dozens of foreclosed properties in Ohio. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, like other land banks across the country, is a quasi-governmental entity with the capacity to attain and manage vacant properties in the greater Cleveland area.
Through that partnership, Fannie Mae agreed to sell its most troubled foreclosed homes to the Land Bank for a nominal fee, and to help cover the costs of demolition for properties that were too far gone for the land bank to salvage.
Since that time, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank has formalized relationships with a handful of additional lenders. Bank of America and Wells Fargo both joined the group this summer, pledging to donate vacant and foreclosed homes to the Land Bank and to help pay demolition costs ranging from $3,500 to $7,500.