Improving communities by improving data collection - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Improving communities by improving data collection

The Woodstock Institute recently released a report proposing strategies municipalities can adopt to gain control of vacant properties that drag on the local economy, reduce quality of life and contribute to crime. The report’s proposals focus on vacant building registration, a practice all municipalities should adopt. Registration helps communities understand the impacts of vacancies, obtain contact information for owners and mortgagees of vacant properties, design programs suited to local conditions to tackle blight, and even raise revenue to support those strategies.

The good news is that Illinois ranks fourth in the nation for having the highest number of municipalities with vacant building registrations. At MPC, our work with communities and organizations around the region has proven the value of vacant building registration: For instance, we recently issued a report detailing a number of strategies communities can employ to manage the growing number of single-family rental homes in the region; vacant building registration was one of the top strategies we recommended. Through our role leading the Cook County Land Bank Advisory Committee, which led to the formation of a countywide land bank, we also encouraged our region to continue to lead the nation on this best practice.

It’s clear we cannot rest on our laurels, as the phenomenon of foreclosures being initiated but not completed continues to occur. Mortgage services often start the foreclosure process before realizing that the cost of owning and maintaining the building would exceed any potential revenue. In these situations, mortgagers do not take title of the property—leaving the property in limbo and usually resulting in dilapidation. To combat ongoing problem vacancies, the Woodstock Institute report recommends the following:

  1. Vacant building ordinances and databases should be structured so that (a) owners or servicers are required to provide updates on the building status, (b) citizen complaints to 311 are incorporated, and (c) there is easy integration with the U.S. Postal Service, police, firefighters, utility companies and other important on-the-ground sources.
  2. The vacant building ordinance and databases should collect property index numbers (PIN) or designate unique identifiers in an online/database format so the property can be tracked in either county or city real estate databases.
  3. The vacant property database should include the following: contact information for the responsible party (owner, agent or servicer), updated information on code compliance and fee requirements and key details on the property’s status, including if the property is currently residential, industrial or commercial, pending litigation, number of units affected, reason for vacancy, and the beginning and end of the vacancy period.

MPC will work with the Woodstock Institute through the Regional Homeownership Preservation Initiative and Woodstock to encourage and assist more communities to adopt and adapt these relevant, necessary strategies to their local needs.

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