From the Good Ideas File: auction website to help sell abandoned homes

Sometimes Good Ideas sound so simple that we’re inclined to say “really?  that’s a new thing?”  But in the world of community revitalization, sometimes even the supposedly easy things to do are much harder than they look.

Here’s the lead of the article from the Detroit Free Press:

The website — — went live Monday. It will be the city’s clearinghouse for auctions of homes that the city offers through a program Duggan announced last week in which Detroit goes to court to force owners of vacant homes to fix them up and get them occupied or risk deeding them to the city.

The first 15 homes will begin being auctioned in early May. Twelve of them are in the city’s East English Village neighborhood on the city’s east side, some in very good condition and some needing renovations. The first auction will be May 5; the homes and schedule are available on the web site.

“Were laying another huge piece in place in Detroit’s strategy to fight blight,” Duggan said at a news conference, flanked by City Council President Brenda Jones and Councilman Andre Spivey, whose council district represents that neighborhood. “It is not enough to just demolish.”

I’ve written at the Wise Economy Workshop blog about my concern that people too easily think that demolishing abandoned buildings is the only answer, or the right answer — or even more delusional, that all we have to do is demolish, and then “The Market” would take care of the rest.  We didn’t have any real reason to think that in the 1990s, and with the enormous glut of urban vacant lots in most older cities today, there’s even less reason to think there’s a prayer of that now.

Initiatives like this need to be targeted to specific areas like this one is, and they have to include only habitable buildings to keep them functional , and there’s never enough money or staff to do all the properties that you could be doing right now.  And that means that the impacts aren’t immediately visible to the broader public, and that means that there will always be someone saying “They’re Not Doing Anything” or “They’re Not Doing Enough” or “We Need to Do Some Big Thing Instead of This.”

But I think that this is how you actually do make an impact — it’s a multi-strategy, multi-step, not-one-sizes-fits-all situation.  It takes a coordinated collection of strategies, and this is clearly a good one to have in the quivver.

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