Blighted properties can be a significant challenge for local governments and residents. There are both economic and social impacts of blight. Blighted properties can decrease neighborhood property values thereby decreasing the property tax revenue from the area. Additionally, blighted properties are associated with poor social determinants of health, a haven for crime, an eyesore for residents, and can diminish community pride. As a result, many local governments have implemented programs to address blighted properties in their communities. However, determining what constitutes a “blighted property” can be challenging. This post will explore how local government officials and code enforcement departments can define a threshold for blighted properties and best practices for defining blight thresholds in your community.
What is a Blighted Property?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a starting point with their definition of a blighted structure: “a property that exhibits objectively determinable signs of deterioration.” While this definition provides a starting point, each community has unique characteristics and challenges contributing to blight, as demonstrated in this 90-page review of statutory and case law. As a result, local governments must be proactive in defining the threshold for blighted properties in their community.
Factors to Consider
When creating a threshold for blighted properties, there are several factors that local governments should consider. These factors can include:
- Data available
- Community priorities & urgency
- Resources to track & resolve (personnel & funding)
- Economic and social benefits of reducing blight
By taking these factors into account, local governments can set a threshold that is tailored to their community’s unique needs and challenges.
As indicated in the HUD definition, objectivity is important. Objectivity is driven largely by the data available to measure blight. If a structure’s deficiencies cannot be measured and analyzed objectively, it will be exceptionally difficult to remediate and even more difficult to justify the expenses of remediation to constituents, community stakeholders, and potential grantors like the Choice Neighborhood or CDBG programs. Types of data available may include analog sources such as administrative records of housing vacancy data, housing code violations, tax delinquency, 311 calls for services, and USPS delivery records. While these types of data sources are the most commonly available, they are resource intensive and provide only proxy indicators, as discussed in this issue of Cityscape.
Recent technological advances have allowed City Detect to reduce some of the human burden of measuring blight. With continuous model training and AI improvements, City Detect’s AI is able to automatically spot and map a wide variety of blight indicators including broken windows, vehicles on lawns, overgrown vegetation, and more. These models use “deep learning” techniques and are trained with millions of labeled images.
Interested in learning how CityDetect measures and defines the threshold for blight in their AI models? Click here for a free consultation.
While the models are highly accurate, human input is essential to align the code enforcement activities resulting from blight identification with community priorities.
Community Priorities & Urgency
Determining community priorities and the urgency of various blight indicators is essential in setting your community’s threshold for blight. While community engagement will slow down the process, it is essential to the sustainable impacts of blight remediation. The general rule of thumb is to aim for 80% correct and 100% buy-in. A best practice is to involve the community early and often.
Community involvement through city council meetings, neighborhood meetings, and online polls are great ways to find out what blight-related issues are most pressing for your community. Think about how you are defining “community” and “neighborhood” as these definitions will drive the engagement and priorities listed. In addition to priorities, understand the sense of urgency presented by various blight conditions. Blight indicators severely impacting public health or serious threats to safety should be addressed immediately.
Resources to Track & Resolve
Essentially this component is about budgeting and timelines: leveraging the data sources, personnel available, and funding available is critical to setting an effective blight threshold for your community. Setting the threshold with respect to effective implementation will help keep the expectations of the community aligned with the actions taken to reduce and remediate blight.
Economic & Social Benefits of Blight Reduction
With the community-informed priority list in hand, think through the economic and social benefits to the larger community. Understanding the economic and social benefits and communicating those benefits to the community helps your constituents understand the investment and the rewards. Translate economic benefits to the city (such as strengthening the tax base) into tangible benefits the stakeholders can see (such as additional free after-school tutoring or other community reinvestment activities).
Creating a Fair and Effective Threshold
One effective approach is to create a checklist of objective criteria that a property must meet in order to be considered blighted. Examples of objective criteria can include:
- Visible structural damage
- Overgrown vegetation
- Accumulation of trash or debris
- Unsecured entrances
- Evidence of illegal activity on the property
By creating objective criteria, local governments can ensure that the threshold for blighted properties is fair and easily understood by all stakeholders.
Defining a threshold for blighted properties is an important step in addressing this significant challenge in many communities. By taking into account the unique characteristics and challenges of their community, local governments can create a definition of blight and threshold that is fair, effective, and legally defensible. Objective criteria, stakeholder engagement, and a focus on the impact of blighted properties on the community can all contribute to successful outcomes in addressing blight.
Suggested reading & sources:
Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research • Volume 24, Number 2 • 2022 3 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development • Office of Policy Development and Research. “Measuring Blight” Alexander Din, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Basics of Blight
Luce, H. H. (2000). THE MEANING OF BLIGHT: A SURVEY OF STATUTORY AND CASE LAW. Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal, 35(2), 389–478. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20782215