Improving data collection on vacant buildings in the Chicago area

Written by Dan Fair on June 25, 2013 - 1:46pm

Municipalities across the Chicago region are struggling to come up with effective ways of making vacant homes productive again. Some communities are hitting a wall: how can you design a response when you don’t fully understand the problem?

Before you can bring great redevelopment ideas to fruition, you need to know where vacant buildings are, who owns them, and what condition they’re in.

We set out to understand gaps in vacant buildings data collection in a new report released today. The report, Deciphering Blight: Vacant Buildings Data Collection in the Chicago Six County Region, recommends actions municipalities can take to improve and standardize their data collection.

The foreclosure crisis has left us with a growing number of vacant homes, making the properties vulnerable to vandalism and blight. Previous Woodstock research reports have found that vacant and abandoned buildings often depress surrounding property values and may attract crime to the area, particularly if the homes are not being properly maintained.

 

As of the end of 2012, nearly 70,000 properties in the Chicago region were vacant for more than two years.

 

The report documents the information local governments currently collect about vacant buildings, finding the data vary widely among the municipalities with significant gaps:

  • The vast majority of the municipalities collected comprehensive data on contact information for parties responsible for vacant properties.
  • More than half of municipalities collected information that could uniquely identify the property.
  • Half of the municipalities did not collect information on the nature of the vacant property.
  • Data collection on code compliance varied widely among the municipalities.

Based on these findings, Deciphering Blight makes several recommendations that will allow the municipalities to better understand the scope of the vacant buildings problem in their communities, inform strategies for property redevelopment and reuse, and keep track of responsible parties for the vacant properties:

  • Structure vacant buildings ordinances to promote data accuracy and regular updates.
  • Include a unique identifier for each property within the database.
  • Require collection of contact information for a responsible party for the property, whether it is an owner, agent, or servicer.
  • Require updated information on compliance with municipal maintenance and fee requirements.
  • Require collection of information on key components of the nature of the property and the vacancy.
  • Store data in a machine-readable format.

Standardized registries that follow these recommendations can help identify patterns among areas with a concentration of vacant buildings and policies to address the problem. Better data on building conditions, for example, can better inform estimates of demolition or redevelopment costs, or identify homes eligible for acquisition by a land bank.

For more information on our recommendations, read the full report and join us for a phone briefing about this report this Thursday at 2pm CT.