How Baltimore, Detroit Are Cleaning Up Problematic Properties

To battle blight, both cities are using everything from legal action to giant posters and talking with neighbors.

By Matthew Lewis
Next City

With a staggering 90,000 vacant properties — nearly a quarter of all properties in the city — Detroit is dealing with blight on a scale unknown anywhere else in the country. Baltimore, a much more compact city, has somewhere between 16,000 and 40,000 vacant properties, which are largely concentrated in the neighborhoods of its east and west sides. Nuisance properties pose significant challenges to neighborhoods and communities: They’re fire and flooding hazards. They attract illegal scrapping, squatters and rodents. To battle blight, both cities are using everything from legal action to giant posters and talking with neighbors.

The Most Aggressive Nuisance Abatement Program in the Country

Detroit’s blight problem did not appear suddenly. Decades of depopulation and deindustrialization, compounded by recent massive waves of mortgage and tax foreclosure, created the current landscape. In September 2013, when Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager of Detroit who would lead the city’s restructuring efforts through its bankruptcy process, declared a blight emergency in the city.

The declaration lifted onerous licensing requirements for demolition contractors and made the city eligible to leverage more federal funding (namely from the Hardest Hit Fund, a part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program), allowing the city of Detroit and the Detroit Land Bank Authority to begin attacking blight more aggressively than anywhere else in the country.

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