Death by Neighborhood: The High Risk of Living Amongst Vacant Properties

Posted by Alannah Dragonetti on August 19, 2016
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Weather-beaten porches buckled into overgrown, yellow grass. Profanities sprayed across boarded windows. To those just passing through a blighted district, vacant commercial and residential properties are an eyesore. For those living in a blighted district, these vacant structures are death traps.

Each season brings a unique set of threats to those residing in blighted districts. For example, the danger of summer heat rises with rates of property abandonment. A 1995 heat wave in Chicago, Illinois left an estimated 739 dead. Many victims were found in distressed parts of town with high vacancy rates and limited public services.


Summer also brings mosquitoes, which thrive in the heaps of garbage, collapsed walls, unchlorinated swimming pools and reservoirs of stagnant rain water commonly found on and around vacant properties. This issue took on critical importance this summer, when the mosquito-borne Zika virus made its voyage around the world. As detailed in GovPilot’s recent white paper, concerns about the devastating Zika pandemic prompted Woodbridge, New Jersey officials to call for the demolition of nearly 40 swimming pools located on vacant properties. Though the demolition of neglected swimming pools is an effective way to suppress the spread of Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses, it does not account for the rats, raccoons and similarly disease-prone animals that inhabit otherwise abandoned structures.




Cooler temperatures offer no respite from the dangers of living amongst property blight.The homeless often seek shelter from the cold in vacant structures and heat them with makeshift fires. Too often, fires kindled in vacant properties grow to conflagrations. Each year between 2010 and 2012, approximately 25,000 vacant residential building fires were reported to United States fire departments. The fires caused an estimated 60 deaths, 225 injuries and $777 million in property loss.


GovPilot Saves Lives


Those living amongst vacant properties are in constant danger. GovPilot provides cities with the tools to rehabilitate blighted districts and protect this vulnerable demographic.


For starters, GovPilot’s “Report a Concern” feature ensures that this segment of the population is heard. Placed on a city’s official website, the “Report a Concern” button allows residents to anonymously alert government to vacant properties and the problems that come with them. Residents can report information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via their desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet and can even upload images and documents to support their claims. Automated communication and streamlined workflows guarantee that blight-related problems are resolved in a timely manner.


GovPilot's "Report a Concern" button ensures that those living amongst property blight are heard and helped by local government.


Whereas “Report a Concern” allows government to more effectively address immediate blight-related issues, GovPilot’s other features help to prevent future property abandonment. Municipalities are using GovPilot software to identify a vacant property’s foreclosing lender as well as the representing law firm. GovPilot’s database links lender and representative contact information to ownership history, zoning violations and other records associated with each property. This trove of comprehensive information empowers government to track trends, analyze findings and more strictly enforce rules and regulations to ensure that that no unoccupied property or irresponsible owner falls through the cracks.


In these and many other ways, GovPilot helps government restore safety and order to blighted areas and save resident lives.

Click here for more information on GovPilot’s Vacant Property Management software module. The GovPilot team will be demonstrating its full range of capabilities at conferences this fall, including:


Rutgers University’s 9th Annual Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Conference (PPMRN)

Thursday, September 22nd

3:15pm - 4:25pm

Rutgers University Newark, NJ Campus, Passaic Room 226, 2nd Floor

Center for Community Progress’ Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference 2016

Sunday, September 28th- Tuesday, September 30th

Hilton Baltimore in Baltimore, MD

New Jersey League of Municipalities’ (NJLM) 2016 Conference

Wednesday, November 16th

1:00 pm - 1:50 pm

Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City, NJ, Room 306


All are welcome to attend!