Tracking Blight in America's Hardest-Hit Cities

Where property abandonment is growing and declining.

Image
Reuters

Empty, ugly, problematic homes are a persistent pest for cities. Marring the landscape and seemingly spreading like an infestation, these blighted properties feed into a cycle of decline that can be hard to escape from.

And for some cities, the problem is indeed getting worse. According to a new report out from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, the Michigan cities of Flint and Detroit have the highest rates of blight in the country. The report, based on information from the U.S. Postal Service covering only a handful of cities, is not comprehensive, but focuses on those cities most hard-hit by blight – a list that also includes Youngstown, Baltimore, Cleveland, and New Orleans.

As this chart shows, the blighted properties in most of these cities are either steady or rising, trends that underscore the long-lasting impact of economic decline and population loss. The recession has only contributed to these conditions.

The one outlier here is, of course, New Orleans, where the percentage of blighted properties dropped from 34 percent in March 2008 to 21 percent in March 2012. Though its current rate is close to the rate seen in the rest of the cities in the report, the conditions in New Orleans are much different. The de-population and devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the cause of the city's blight. And unlike the declining economies of those other Rust Belt cities, the impact of Katrina is starting to wear off.

"There's no doubt," the report notes, "that the most important factor that is driving blight reduction is population growth."

Just because the causes of blight may be different in these places, the fact that they are all dealing with such large amounts of blighted properties means they have lessons to share with each other. A the report notes, New Orleans offers some guiding light:

Our estimates suggest that since September 2010 when the Landrieu administration announced a comprehensive strategy to reduce blight by 10,000 properties in three years, the number of blighted homes and empty lots in New Orleans has decreased by somewhere between 4,500 and 11,500 (as of March 2012). In other words, at a minimum, the City seems to be nearly on target for reaching its goal—and may even be doing quite a bit better than meeting its target.

Still, the rate of blight decline is slowing in New Orleans. If the numbers don't continue to fall, the city may have to start paying closer attention to efforts being made in other cities.

Top image: Lee Celano / Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.