Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do we let abandoned buildings rot while our people are homeless and unemployed?

I woke up this morning thinking about the stereotype of The Bronx, the abandoned tenement buildings with abject poverty, homeless people everywhere, squatters in the abandoned buildings, and so on. My girlfriend lives in a part of the Bronx that doesn't fit this stereotype, so it's nice to know the Bronx is not entirely a destroyed city full of abject poverty and abandoned buildings. At the same time many cities have many abandoned buildings tying up properties which could be put to productive use.

The current phase of US history we have lots of unemployed people, presumably a growing homeless population, housing foreclosures happening at a rapid pace, and hence lots of empty buildings.

The housing bubble a few years ago involved building too many homes and buildings, and selling them to people under shady mortgage situations, and in some cases to people who didn't have the proper financial wherewithall to be buying a house.  This meant vast swaths of mortgage fraud, people forced out of homes, home foreclosures, and so on.  I have not seen it with my own eyes, but understand their are plenty of U.S. cities with huge numbers of foreclosed-upon unoccupied properties.

We don't yet know what will happen in those areas with many newly empty buildings.  Will they go like the other areas with lots of empty buildings, and become slum lands?   Will the economy recover and people start returning to those areas?  Or will they crumble in the wind?  Whatever will eventually come of those places, we do know one thing. They are a missallocation of resources.

On the one hand we have abandoned buildings, and on the other hand we have homeless people.

One thing going on is groups who are aiding people in fighting against foreclosures on their homes.  Coincidentally Rachel Maddow had a piece on her show about this last night.  The Occupy groups are in some cases "Occupying" the homes of people threatened with foreclosure and eviction, and in some cases winning against the banks.  There are also groups who've been doing this work for a long time, and Maddow interviewed one of them (see below).

The other thing going on is a discussion of matching up homeless people with abandoned buildings.  But there is an issue of ownership.  The owner of an abandoned building probably isn't interested in having their building become a homeless shelter.  At the same time a building where the owner has abandoned the building, it has no occupants, it is not being maintained, etc. shouldn't there be a procedure where such properties can be taken away from the owner and turned to positive use?  Should a property owner who is exercising no control over a property retain the right of ownership of that property?

The following perhaps proves that I don't know how to write laws, and proves how difficult it is to write a law that specifically identifies a specific class of properties. In any case this attempts to precisely describe the class of unnocupied unmaintained buildings, and create a process where those properties will be put to use.

What should happen to abandoned land and buildings?  What is the extent of "property owners rights"?   Should a property owner be required to maintain some control or make use of their property?

In the macro-economics scheme any unused property is an under-utilized asset.  Should society step in and steer under-utilized assets to being utilized?


Land and property owners of unoccupied properties, within the boundaries of an incorporated city, are required to maintain their properties, and if not ownership of the property reverts to the local government.
  • this section applies to land or properties within the boundary of an incorporated town, village, or city
  • this section applies to such land or properties which has no occupants
  • by property and properties, we mean buildings such as homes, apartments, duplexes, office buildings, retail buildings, factories, warehouses, etc
  • an occupied property includes one or more of the following conditions
    • the actual owner of the property (or agent) lives in the property, or visits it regularly. For an example, the owner might retain a security company to have someone patrol the property
    • a renter or lease holder who has contractual rights to the property lives there or otherwise appropriately uses it regurlarly
  • maintaining the property includes one or more of these actions
    • for property that is simply land (no buildings) the requirements are minimal
    • if the property is occupied as set forth in the previous section, this law does not apply perhaps, but what about buildings with renters where the landlord does nothing to maintain the building?
    • ensuring the building stays in working order
    • painting, landscaping upkeep, and other routine duties
  • when these conditions are met (no occupants, no maintenance) then the building and it's land becomes owned by the incorporated city whithin whose boundries this property is The city is required to place these properties for sale or otherwise set forth a plan to put the properties to use with occupants and maintenance.

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