According to The Detroit News, since 2005, more than one third of Detroit properties have been foreclosed on because of mortgage defaults or unpaid taxes – almost 140,000 properties. When those homes aren’t reoccupied, they often end up on the city’s blight list, a list that has already 84,000 properties on it.
Detroit ranks fourth in the nation for mortgage foreclosures over the past 10 years, and its housing prices have slumped the most – down 73% from its peak before the housing market crash. City officials and neighborhood organizations are working hard to make a difference, and manage the decline in a way that still provides a high quality of life for remaining residents.
Demolition Is Not The Vacant Property Solution
The city isn’t just losing revenue from taxes on these foreclosures, and as residents flee the city (The Detroit News reports that the city’s population fell by nearly 25% between 2000 and 2010). It’s also having to pay to repair the blight. According to a report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Detroit officials estimated costs of boarding up and securing 6000 properties to be about $1.4 million. Tearing down the properties is even more costly. The mayor’s office told WDET that they were spending between 10,000 and $14,000 per home – and that the price is rising because of the speed at which the city is trying to demolish homes.
Left unaddressed, these vacant properties are targets for crime and vandalism. And not just the properties themselves – neighbors of vacant properties are finding their own homes targeted as thieves from the neighborhood. The dangers from house fires spreading from vacant homes to occupied ones is also a concern. So despite the cost, Detroit has torn down nearly 7,000 houses since mid-2014.
Demolition isn’t the only option.
Like many cities, Detroit is auctioning off vacant homes that are still in reasonable condition, with the caveat that failure to bring a property up to code within six months will result in forfeiture of property. Using GIS, interested homeowners can view property listings and parcel information on a map.
The Detroit Land Bank Authority has also been rehabilitating vacant homes in partnership with Quicken Loans and Home Depot, in a program called Rehabbed & Ready. This public/private partnership has created (as Craig Fahle of the DLBA tells WDET), “turn-key ready houses for those that do want to move in the city, but don’t necessarily want to fix up the house themselves.” The DLBA initially tried to auction the properties off, but now has gone to more traditional model of using realtors to sell them.
While dealing with the vacant property problem, Detroit is also bringing its website’s e-government services up to speed in order to recapture lost revenue from unpaid fines, and streamline processes. Now, the city’s website will allow residents to pay utilities and tickets online, and some types of businesses are able to apply for business licenses online.
The city has also started an open data campaign – launched in February 2015 – to give residents and business owners tools and information like parcel maps, property sales history, and blight violation locations.
Developers are starting to use this data, too. Events like #hack4detroit and organizations like Data Driven Detroit are using the open data portal both to get a picture of Detroit and its current problems, and to create apps that solve those problems. Last April, the city released its Improve Detroit app, where city residents can report potholes, abandoned vehicles, and other problems.
Slowly but surely, these innovative technologies are allowing the city to rebuild itself.