Neighborhoods where the new strategies have been applied have seen home prices rise 31% over four years, compared with a 1% rise in comparable areas, according to a study by Ira Goldstein of the Reinvestment Fund. The initiatives increased home values by $74 million throughout Philadelphia, Goldstein said, and brought in $2.2 million more in transfer tax receipts.
Philadelphia had been spending millions of dollars a year to tear down vacant properties, and it didn’t seem to be making much headway, said Rebecca Swanson, who directs the city’s vacant building strategy. So in 2011, city officials decided to try a strategy they hoped would prevent properties from becoming run down in the first place.
The city utilized software used by the IRS to track down owners of the vacant buildings. Then the city took the owners to a newly created Blight Court. The door and window ordinance also allows the city to attach liens to property owners’ other personal property, including, in some cases, mansions in the suburbs.
“That was the whole point, to catch them early, cite them for doors and windows, and hopefully that incentivizes the owner to come out of the woodwork and do something,” Swanson said.
Many property owners who break anti-blight laws would face tougher penalties under bills approved Thursday in the state House. Under the legislation, the worst offenders could spend up to a year behind bars.
State Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) says a number of Michigan cities have good anti-blight laws on the books. But she says the consequences for breaking those laws aren’t tough enough to deter people.
“So it puts the teeth into what those cities are trying to do in eliminating blight,” said Price.