Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Lost and found
On Monday, July 29, 2013, NPR broadcast a story about a small group of people taking on the problem of abandoned buildings in Baltimore, Maryland. The group tracks down property information through public records, and uses it to get the owners of these properties to either sell them to the city for revitalization, or repair them and put them back to business. Having seen many such buildings pretty much everywhere I have lived and traveled to in the United States, I was really taken by this idea. So, I decided to do some research and see whether there are other such efforts taking place elsewhere in the country. First of all, in order to battle the problem, we must have a good idea of what exactly the problem is. I was able to find this fantastic paper by Jon Shane, detailing the nature of abandoned properties, their impact on the surrounding communities, what can be done by the government and private individuals, some of what has already been done, and what effect it had. An example of such action would be South Carolina's new Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act, offering tax credit to property owners for taking active steps to either repair existing properties, or demolish and rebuild. There is also an effort going on to rescue America's abandoned mills, finding new ways to use these buildings, while preserving their character. Some help came from a surprising source - a group of artists from Italy, looking for interesting buildings across the United States and for ways to restore them. One of the challenges all of the groups cite is not having one central database, covering all properties, in all states, to simplify the research. Some of this is being addressed by Small Growth America. The site has already pulled together the information about various existing programs, laws, and guidelines pertaining to this issue. There are definitely ways for private individuals to get involved. That said, there is obviously still a lot of information gathering that needs to be done. If you are interested in getting more information and possibly participating in your state's revitalization efforts, Google HUD for your state. For example, I searched for "HUD NC", and then "abandoned properties" on that site, and found a whole bunch of resources there. Good luck and feel free to share what you have found!