Best Practices for Community Revitalization and Stabilization

Greater Ohio Policy Center is constantly seeking new and innovative ways to stabilize neighborhoods and revitalize communities, particularly in the face of the vacant and abandoned property crisis. As we gather examples of successful strategies of revitalization from across the state, region, and country, we will periodically update this collection of resources. We intend for this “living document” to serve as a repository of best practices and policy recommendations that are of use to local practitioners, community development leaders, and local and state government officials who work with small, medium, and large communities.

Note on Using Best Practices Clearinghouse: Within each topic we have listed the bibliographic details of the resource, its web address, and a brief description of the report or paper. Most links open directly into a PDF, some of which are large files that may take a few moments to download.


Comprehensive Approaches: This section provides tools from many communities that cover many different realms of vacant and abandoned properties. Tools include state laws, collaboration, property maintenance, and land reform for governments to utilize when planning for a comprehensive approach to abating blighted areas. Communities of any size that are looking for multiple solutions that complement one another will find these tools effective in the battle against vacant and abandoned properties.

Land Revitalization: Land revitalization is commonly used to describe different forms of land redevelopment, including: brownfield remediation, commercial corridor redevelopment, and historic building rehabilitation. As available land within our urban cores decreases, land reuse and revitalization becomes a critical strategy for creating sustainable development for the 21st century. This section contains reports and handbooks that examine different approaches, which have successfully returned properties and parcels to productive use.

Land Banks/Code Enforcement: Land banks and the natural synergies between land banks and code enforcement is an ideal strategy for many communities suffering from blighted storefronts, houses, and commercial spaces. The entries in this section may be of particular interest to counties or large cities searching for education, research, and best practices about land banks and code enforcement.

Workshops/Pilot Programs: Cities with designated programs to fight blight have shared their stories and resources for other cities to use as guidelines. Many of the programs take novel approaches and could model new strategies for abating the vacant and abandoned property crisis. Some cities have even seen an increase in citizens taking the initiative to triage their communities. These strategies could be utilized in metros and larger cities.

Real Property Information Systems: Information systems have been popping up in many cities because real-time data is desperately needed. The resources here describe how cities around the country are beginning to create tracking systems and the types of information incorporated into these systems.

Green Strategies: The popularity of becoming “green” is starting to take hold in many cities across the globe. Many cities, for instance, are transforming vacant land into green infrastructure. Green Infrastructure can range from urban farming to new park land and even green certified buildings.

Academic Journal Articles: Professors and researchers report on research and vacant and abandoned property abatement strategies.

Comprehensive Approaches

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Residents at the Center: A Handbook on Community-Based Planning for Distressed Neighborhoods
Stephen Finn, Lalitha Kamath, Dennis Brunn, and Michael Powell; September 2006
Rutgers University’s Community Development Institute and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey developed the handbook to put residents and local stakeholders at the center of neighborhood planning. “The handbook offers helpful and practical information to practitioners and community leaders responsible for organizing and managing the planning process”. Case studies include Bergen Hill Neighborhood Planning Initiative, La Case de Don Pedro’s Lower Broadway Neighborhood Planning Initiative, and Parkside Neighborhood Planning Initiative.

“Vacant properties: Real solutions to a regional housing challenge” Metropolitan Planning Council, January 18, 2012
The Metropolitan Planning Council (Chicago) writes blogs on issues surrounding vacant properties. Blogs range in subject and include case studies from Illinois on ordinances, data, and solutions to the vacancy problems affecting the state. Writers include national experts and prominent politicians, including: John Norquist (CEO of Congress for New Urbanism), Pat Quinn (Illinois Governor), Dory Rand (President of Woodstock Institute), Bridget Gainer (Cook County Commissioner), and Dominic Tossi (Metropolitan Planning Council).

“State of Metropolitan Housing Report 2012” Metropolitan Housing Coalition, 2012
The annual report on metropolitan housing in Louisville, Kentucky provides an update on current regulations and programs in place to combat problems generated by vacant and abandoned property and outlines opportunities not being utilized at the moment.

“City of Alpharetta Strategies for Vacant Commercial Property Re-Use” Atlanta Regional Commission, August 2011
The report was written to help the city of Apharetta manage its vacant commercial properties. There are seven specific commercial vacant sites that the Atlanta Regional Commission studied. The report reviews case studies from across the U.S. to determine the best route to get reuse out of these buildings.

“Vacant and Abandoned Properties: Survey and Best Practices”
  United States Conference of Mayors, 2009
The third installment of the series continues to drill down on effective solutions to U.S. cities vacant properties crisis. Many cities in the report emphasize the use of NSP, Neighborhood Stabilization Program; a tool from HUD.

“Community Revitalization Desktop Guide” Community Action Team of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
The Community Action Team’s main objective is to assist older communities in attracting investment to their abandoned cores, both in terms of jobs and housing revitalization/growth. The state-funded Team emphasizes four goals that attract investment to the core communities: Choose One Asset-Rich Development Area, Prepare Redevelopment Area for Market, Welcome Investment, and Apply Strategies that Work.

“Linking Water Resources and Best Local Land Use Practices” State of Ohio Balanced Growth Program, 2012
The Ohio Balanced Growth Program has put together a report for best local land use practices. Balanced Growth is a voluntary, incentive-based strategy to protect and restore Lake Erie, the Ohio River, and Ohio's watersheds to assure long-term economic competitiveness, ecological health, and quality of life. The goal of the program is to link land-use planning to the health of watersheds and major water bodies. The report separates topics into chapters including: brownfield s redevelopment, compact development, comprehensive planning, agricultural lands protection, transfer of development rights, etc.

“Texas Problem Properties Toolkit: A Resource to Help Texas Communities Address Problems Created by Vacant and Abandoned Properties” The Community Development Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law; 2010
The Community Development Clinic has researched best practices in the United States to create a toolkit that guides stakeholders on strategies to eliminate vacant and abandoned properties. The report highlights community engagement, real property registration, receivership, vacant property ordinances, criminal nuisance abatement, land banking, and code enforcement issues.

“From Vacancy to Vibrancy: A guide to redeveloping underground storage tank sites through area-wide planning” Smart Growth America March 2012
Old, abandoned gas stations have a value to them that many cities have not fully acknowledged: their prime location. Having these corner lots cleaned up of their containments could produce significant investment and development in the community. Smart Growth America uses this guide to aid communities in their cleanup of gas stations and ties the remediation of these sites to the importance of planning for the entire neighborhood, or area.

“Vacant and Abandoned Properties Survey and Best Practices” The United States Conference of Mayors, 2008
The best practices compiled for this 2008 report feature a variety of abandoned property strategies from cities across the United States. The best practices range from comprehensive city-wide strategies and initiatives that employ numerous remedies, to examples of programs that are effective in attacking a single aspect of the problem.

“Cleveland at the Crossroads: Turning Abandonment Into Opportunity. Recommendations for the Prevention, Reclamation, and Reuse of Vacant and Abandoned Property in Cleveland” Alan Mallach, Lisa Mueller Levy, and Joseph Schilling, June 2005
The National Vacant Properties Campaign Assessment team proposes five critical steps that Cleveland needs to implement to reclaim abandoned and vacant properties: define and document the problem, change the ground rules for owners of vacant properties, increase the acquisition and redevelopment of vacant property, create a property information system and build a comprehensive, coordinated vacant property action plan.

“How Can Municipalities Confront the Vacant Property Challenge?” Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, March 2010
The three Chicago-based entities have formed a collection of tools based on implementation that municipalities and smaller scale small cities and large cities can do to revitalize the areas in their communities that face blight the most. They see the critical need to implement these strategies at a smaller scale because they can target the revitalization in the worst areas. Examples of tools include: identifying a party responsible for property maintenance, collaboration, and a vacant building registry.

“Abandoned Properties: Our Action Plan” City of Indianapolis (Sherron Franklin), Feb. 3, 2009
The action plan presented in this document by the city of Indianapolis has four parts: information, mitigation, containment, and redevelopment. The city’s main goals are to develop a comprehensive data system, enforcing the Unsafe Building Law, encouraging investment in existing homes, and a redevelopment plan for the city. This detailed action plan is a useful resource for communities just starting research on ways to abate the vacant and abandoned properties problem.

“Quick Guide New Tools to Address Blight and Abandonment” Ashley S. Beers, Cynthia Witman Daley, Irene McLaughlin, Gillian Paulek, December 2012
The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania created The Quick Guide which provides a compilation and brief description of state laws recently enacted that will assist Pennsylvania’s communities in addressing the problem of vacant, abandoned and blighted private property. Along with enacted laws, are description of policies still needed that would assist Pennsylvania with blight prevent and land reuse.

“Recapturing Land for Economic and Fiscal Growth” Alan Mallach and Jennifer S. Vey, May 2011
Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation released an article about how older cities have seen abandonment in their core, which leads to a massive population decline and blighted areas. Mallach and Vey give suggestions on how to cities to repurpose the abandoned areas: reform inefficient tax foreclosure laws, create clear paths to public control of vacant and abandoned properties, empower effective code enforcement nuisance abatement, and enhance local government’s power to mitigate the harm created by mortgage foreclosure.

“Reclaiming Abandoned Pennsylvania” Karen L. Black, March 2003
The Pennsylvania Low Income Housing Coalition report has identified ten reform opportunities that will help Philadelphia transform abandoned properties into a competitive, developable product. While Pennsylvania has the state authorizing powers to transform the properties, the PLIHC argues that modernizing the tools available will create a more efficient process of handling buildings from blight to revitalization.

“Combating Problems of Vacant and Abandoned Properties Best Practices in 27 Cities” United States Conference of Mayors, June 2006
Mayors from 27 cities share their initiatives to combat the vacancy problems. These descriptions include pilot projects as well as successful permanent programs. In sharing the unique ideas they come up with will make a more effective change towards revitalization practices. Along with their initiatives, they share approaches to leadership, partnerships, funding sources, and lessons learned while in their process to strengthen their community.

“Vacant and Abandoned Properties: Effective Public Policy Approaches” Center for Community Progress 2010
The Center for Community Progress wants to assist cities and organizations in being more proactive in the fight against vacant and abandoned properties. They envision ten steps to urban land reform that will be more effective in the fight: know the territory, develop a citywide approach to redevelopment, implement neighborhood plans in partnership with community stakeholders, make government effective, create a sound legal framework for redevelopment, create marketable opportunities, finance redevelopment, build on natural historic assets, be sensitive to gentrification and relocation issues, and organize for success.


Land Revitalization

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Planning Policies and Regulations that can reduce the Practice of Private Property Abandonment
Rex LaMore and Michelle LaBlanc; June 27, 2013
“This paper examines the feasibility of adopting public planning regulations that would require private sector entities to secure financial investments on newly constructed commercial and industrial structures. The research paper identifies current practices that use a system of financial assurance to ensure funding for deconstruction, their enabling legislation, their methods of operation, and concludes with policy recommendations that may be adopted to transform the current pattern of private property abandonment”. Note that the report is about commercial properties that focus on oil, energy, and communication essentially brownfields.

“Brownfields Redevelopment: Reclaiming Land, Revitalizing Communities A Compendium of Best Practices” The United States Conference of Mayors, Volume 5 November 2010
This volume of best practices by the United States Conference of Mayors includes examples of public-private partnerships in brownfield redevelopment as well as other tools. Example cities include: Asheville, NC; Baltimore, MD; Coralville, IA; Dallas, TX; Dubuque, IA; and Houston, TX.

“Shifting Gears: Driving Towards Auto Sector Property Revitalization” United States Environmental Protection Agency, April 2008
This report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency showcases how abandoned auto-sector industrial sites are integral to the United States economic future. Approaches the EPA promotes to cleanup and reuse these vital sites include the EPA’s Brownfield Program, The Superfund Program, The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and The Underground Storage Tanks Program.

“Ecological Revitalization: Turning Contaminated Properties Into Community Assets” United States Environmental Protection Agency, February 2009
The EPA provides tools to the public and private sectors on how to restore contaminated sites into community assets such as wetlands that mitigate flooding or parks that promote community.

“City on a mission to revitalize abandoned, underused, contaminated properties” Port City Daily, Ben Brown; September 26, 2012 
A grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide assessments on brownfields for the benefit of potential developers. With this information at their disposal, the city of Wilmington would be able to market these blighted properties much easier to potential buyers.

“Land Revitalization Success Stories” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011
The Land Revitalization Program was created to restore and return land and natural resources to communities in order for them to reap the economic, ecological, and social uses of the revitalized land. This report outlines a multitude of the revitalization projects finished and ongoing across the country.

“Restructuring The Commercial Strip: A Practical Guide for Planning the Revitalization of Deteriorating Strip Corridors” ICF International and Freedman Tung & Sasaki; 2010
This document commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides communities with resources and guidance on how to reinvest in the strip corridors of America’s suburbs.

 “Unlocking Brownfields: Keys to Community Revitalization” National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals and Northeast-Midwest Institute, March 17, 2005
The National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals and the Northeast-Midwest Institute have conducted research on brownfield reuse across the nation for the past decade. This research has led to a report that documents successful brownfield projects and produced 10 keys to brownfield success.

Land Banks/Code Enforcement

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Conservatorship Handbook: How to Use Conservatorship to Address Blighted and Abandoned Property for Philadelphia’s Community Leaders   Rachel Blake, John Caddell, Cynthia Witman Daley, John Kromer, Irene McLaughlin, and Catherine L. Meehan; Spring 2013
Pennsylvania Act 135 of 2008 authorizes the use of conservatorship, an anti-blight strategy. “In response from a petitioner, a judge may designate a conservator- a responsible private or non-profit entity- to bring a blighted property into compliance with property maintenance and building codes”. This handbook is proposed to help community leaders understand the process of conservatorship in order to decrease the amount of properties being left abandoned.

“Building Hope: Tools for Transforming Abandoned and Blighted Properties into Community Assets” The University of Texas School of Law, Community Development Clinic; December 2007
This report was prepared to offer legal and policy tools to fight abandoned and blighted properties in the Dallas, Texas metro. Tools detailed in the report are: code enforcement, criminal nuisance abatement, receivership, civil asset forfeitures, and recommendation for action.

“Leveraging Code Enforcement for Neighborhood Safety: Insights for Community Developers” LISC, MetLife Foundation, Community Safety Initiative (CSI)
As part a collaboration between the MetLife Foundation and two nonprofits: Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Community Safety Initiative, this paper is one in a series on Community Safety. In this short writing, the organizations identify how to effectively enforce code regulations in order to increase neighborhood security and safety. The Community Safety series examines codes-police-community partnerships, offers suggestions on how to structure partnerships with code enforcement officials, and the ways to sustain a holistic community-police-codes relationship.

“State Policy Toolkit: State Land Bank Enabling Legislation” Smart Growth America
An older publication from Smart Growth America, this briefing provides a good overview of the rules and responsibilities of a land bank and describes how land banks are statutorily established. States with model policies are noted in the toolkit. Although some information is out of date (for example, Ohio has had land bank legislation since 2010), this write-up can still be of use to those states seeking to establish their own land banks.

“Best Practices in Land Bank Operation” Kevin E. O’Brien and Kirstin Toth, June 2005
Conducting primary research for a survey of best practices in land bank operations, O’Brien and Toth’s scan reviews the literature and analyzes a survey taken by land bank managers to identify relevant and replicable policies or procedures.

“Revitalizing Foreclosed Properties with Land Banks” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, August 2009
Using case studies of the Genesee County Lady Bank Authority, the Baltimore Land Bank Authority Proposal and the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority, this report describes the history and function of land banks and examines strategies these land banks have used to successfully revitalize foreclosed properties.

“Reinventing Dayton and the Miami Valley Through Vacant Property Revitalization and Reclamation” Joseph Schilling, John Kromer, and Jessica Millman, May 2005
This report created a blueprint to be utilized in Dayton metro to combat the problems of vacancy. Components of the assessment include: a regional real property information system, comprehensive code enforcement strategies, land banks/urban land trust, and a comprehensive vision and policy action agenda to guide regional development.

“Neighborhood Stabilization Strategies for Vacant and Abandoned Properties” Frank S. Alexander and Leslie A. Powell, September 2008
This article from the Zoning and Planning Law Report describes local and state strategies that can be implemented to facilitate stabilization in neighborhoods. The author covers topics such as: property tax foreclosure reform, code enforcement, receivership actions, vacant property registration, and land banks.

“Code Enforcement and Community Stabilization: The Forgotten First Responders to Vacant and Foreclosed Homes” Joseph Schilling, 2009
Gathering insights from local code enforcement workers, this report details the impacts that foreclosure and vacant properties have upon neighborhoods and communities. They share programs that have successfully rehabbed the blighted structures plaguing communities in the U.S.

“REO & Vacant Properties Strategies for Neighborhood Stabilization” Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and Cleveland and the Federal Reserve Board, 2010
This edited volume examines solutions for neighborhood stabilization, such as code enforcement, maintaining occupancy through tenants, and land banking. It reports on ongoing programs such as the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program and a national program intended to assist community-minded buyers who want to live in revitalized neighborhoods.

“Developing Comprehensive Code Enforcement Strategies to Prevent and Stabilize Substandard and Vacant Properties within the Region’s Core Communities” Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, July, 2011
The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, which serves the Dayton metro, believes that comprehensive approaches to code enforcement are critical in preventing vacancies, public nuisances, and stabilizing buildings before they can no longer be repaired. MVRPC drew best practices from different programs from throughout the United States to make local policy recommendations that will help strengthen their fight against vacant and abandoned property in Dayton and its surrounding communities.

“Vacant Land- Peer Cities and Best Practices” FixItPhilly, 2011
FixItPhilly, a coalition of architects, planners, developers, and local government officials, have identified a number of best practices that Philadelphia should consider as it transforms its foundational principles for vacant land into an action plan to bring blighted properties back into reuse. Best practices include: land banks, vacant property registration laws, tax foreclosure law reform, receivership of nuisance properties, code enforcement, temporary use of vacant lots, criminal nuisance abatement, side yard programs, and greening of vacant land.


Workshops/ Pilot Programs

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Vacant Property Legal Manual Community Legal Resources
“Intended for a statewide audience, this manual builds on the work done by the Detroit Vacant Property Campaign by focusing on state law and strategies available throughout Michigan”. Other communities in Michigan have contributed their best practices on efficiently responding to vacant properties. The chapters focus on preventing vacancy, stabilizing vacant properties, determining property ownership, controlling the condition of vacant properties, purchasing vacant properties, issues regarding the acquisition and maintenance of vacant properties.

Vacant & Abandoned Properties Task Force Report City of South Bend, February 2013
South Bend’s problems exist from population decline, loss of manufacturing, the national housing crisis, and effects of property value reassessment. Recommendations of the report include working with St. Joseph County to enact an intergovernmental agreement, supporting third generation land banking and tax sale reform legislation at the state level. The Task Force Report covers data-driven decision making, code enforcement, and land banks & sales tax solutions.

Addressing Vacant & Abandoned Buildings in Oklahoma City GSBS Richman Consulting, June 26, 2013
The report states, “Over the past decade the number of long-term vacant housing units in Oklahoma City has increased by roughly 25 percent. The primary cause is low property carrying costs, meaning the vacant buildings cost so little to own that owners prefer to keep them vacant rather than putting them into productive use. A comprehensive program that includes a combination of enforcement measures, penalties, and rewards is recommended to address the problem. The program should be designed to incentivize reuse and rehabilitation of properties and to uphold the property rights of all owners, including the property rights of owners near VABs”. This source is instrumental because it shows how the public sector and private sector collaborating on how to decrease vacant property abandonment.

West Fairbanks Avenue  Urban Land Institute Central Florida; September 1, 2012
The West Fairbanks Avenue technical assistance panel was convened to advise the City of Winter Park on the redevelopment of the West Fairbanks Avenue Corridor. The panel was challenged with transforming a traditional highway corridor and adjacent infill properties from their current underutilized auto-centric condition to a new more sustainable urban condition featuring a more compact, walkable, mixed use, identifiable space. The panel’s recommendations include creating a vision steering committee that will create a “Shared Vision” and Action Plan that could be adopted by City Council.

An Action Plan for Reinvestment and Revitalization in Madison, Tennessee   ULI Nashville, February 2012
The Action Plan looks at the broader Metro community and to the opportunities that lay with the private-sector real estate community. The panel was created to strengthen the findings of previous plans put together and to create a strategic implementation plan. Major recommendations include driving population growth to stabilize the commercial businesses in the community, define Madison’s identity to serve existing and future residents and expand city leadership. Madison is a neighborhood northeast of downtown Nashville that is home to a large ethnic population especially Hispanics.

The Discovery District: A Road Map and Tool Kit to Connect, Catalyze and Capitalize the Transformation of Downtown Houston  Urban Land Institute Houston; January 26, 2012
The Technical Assistance Panel was requested by Houston First Corporation and Central Houston Civic Improvement, Inc. to consider potential development with a Public-Private Partnership. The panel concluded that the infrastructure improvements and new branding would boost hospitality, residential, and retail in the district.. The new branding would be based around the Discovery District instead of the current Convention District branding it uses to promote the area.

Cook County Land Bank TAP  Urban Land Institute Chicago; October 23, 2012
Cook County is estimated to have almost 200,000 vacant units scattered across a large expanse. In 2012, ULI convened a Technical Assistance Panel to look at the creation of a county land bank. TAPs are typically two-day intensive working sessions addressing land challenges proposed by the sponsoring organization, a local government, non-profit organization, or developer about a specific development or policy barrier within a defined geographic area. The outcome from the TAP included panel recommendations as well as resources on starting a land bank from the ground up.

Mayors’ Resource Guide on Vacant and Abandoned Properties   Alan Mallach, U.S. Conference of Mayors Housing Task Force, the National Vacant Properties Campaign, and the Fannie Mae Foundation; 2006
This report details the role of a Mayor in the process of combating vacancy in communities across the United States. Mallach notes that Mayors can combine many layers of expertise because of his/her relationships. Mayors are seen as advocates of the city and need to know how to combat vacancy problems because they are happening in so many communities.

"Blighted and Vacant Property Committee Recommendations Report: Phase I Commercial Property"  City of Frederick, Maryland Blighted and Vacant Property Committee                  July 11, 2012
The city of Frederick, Maryland, initiated a recommendation report to be completed by the 15 member committee composed of residents, commercial and residential real estate brokers, non-profit representatives, and city staff. The first phase researches commercial properties and recommends how best they can be reutilized in the city of Frederick.

"Blighted and Vacant Property Committee Recommendations Report: Phase II Residential Property"  City of Frederick, Maryland; Blighted and Vacant Property Committee     December 5, 2012
Phase II of the series of reports for Frederick, Maryland, focuses on blighted residential properties. The report outlines support tools to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Frederick through property management and rehabilitation. A comprehensive recommendation list is outlined as the outcome of the research.

“Rochester, NY From Blight to Bright: PROJECT GREEN”
City of Rochester Planning and Department of Neighborhood & Business Development; 2009
Rochester is one of the many declining cities in the U.S. that is facing with commercial and residential property abandonment issues. The plan evaluated the city’s approach to investment and concluded with priorities the city should be using to guide revitalization. The city’s priority programs include: One City Rochester- Fix the Basics, Invest in Neighborhoods on Five Year Rotation Cycles, Brownfield Opportunity Areas, Waterfront, Center City, and Project Green.

“Governor Quinn Announces Plan to Revitalize Vacant, Foreclosed Homes in Six Communities ‘Building Blocks' Pilot Program Will Rehabilitate Vacant Properties, Increasing Affordable Housing and Stabilizing Neighborhoods” Illinois Government News Network; February 3, 2012
The Illinois Building Blocks pilot program announced a plan to return vacant, foreclosed properties to good use for affordable housing and stabilizing neighborhood identity. The first ring and legacy suburbs of Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Maywood, Park Forest, Riverdale and South Holland were chosen to be the test cities.

“Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland” Cleveland Land Lab at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, Neighborhood Progress, Inc., and Cleveland City Planning Commission (2008)
The collaborative was convened by Neighborhood Progress, Inc. to plan for revitalization efforts of Cleveland’s many vacant properties. This plan identifies policy changes and pilot programs that the city could utilize to turn vacant properties into productive properties. Visit their website for more resources on this initiative.

"Operation No Vacancy” Andrea Surratt, Dave Leonetti, Mike Bennett (Government Finance Review, June 2009)
The city of Hickory in North Carolina has created Operation: No Vacancy, a program that will incentivize private investments in targeted downtown neighborhoods. Using a grant program to demolish or rehabilitate commercial and industrial buildings, the goal of this program is to encourage small businesses to use the grants to locate their businesses to the targeted area, and/or to encourage investors to assist with the renovation of buildings for new occupants. A write-up of the program can be found here: “Operation No Vacancy” Andrea Surratt, Dave Leonetti, Mike Bennett (Government Finance Review, June 2009) and the guidelines here: “Vacant Building Revitalization and Demolition Grant Guidelines” City of Hickory, North Carolina.

“The Birmingham Comprehensive Plan: Community Renewal and Downtown Revitalization Workshop” City of Birmingham, January, 23, 2012
This workshop identified the areas that need aggressive remediation in Birmingham. Looking at best practices around the U.S., Birmingham decided to use their past to build the future city of tomorrow. The Plan draws from practices such as: place-based redevelopment, Richmond (VA) Neighborhoods in Bloom, arts and community development, and Cleveland Vacant Land Pattern Book.

“City of Chicago Tackles Blight with New Abandoned Property Program” Heather Hill Cernoch and Carrie Bay, May 12, 2011
The city of Chicago is working to alleviate the impact of vacant foreclosure properties on its neighborhoods with a new program that has garnered participation from major mortgage services and local law firms. Cities of any size looking to work with the private sector can get tips from Chicago’s new program.

“The Community Asset Preservation Corporation: A New Approach to Community Revitalization” Harold Simon, September 2010
The State of New Jersey has a new organization, Community Asset Preservation Corporation, whose mission is to stabilize fragile neighborhoods and protect homeowners and tenants from the toxic effects of the foreclosure crisis. They share blueprints, asset management, and lessons learned from this new program.

“Improving Philadelphia’s Vacant Property Programs” Philadelphia LISC and National Vacant Properties Campaign, 2009
This report by Philadelphia LISC and the National Vacant Properties Campaign focuses on the five principal city departments and agencies involved in the acquisition and disposition of public and private owned vacant properties in Philadelphia. Each agency or department has its own process with a large number of steps, review processes, and approvals. Together these barriers make it difficult for many neighborhood groups and community development corporations to reclaim vacant properties without special assistance and expertise. The report makes recommendations on how to streamline operations to make it more efficient and cost effective for groups to acquire vacant and abandoned properties.

“Residents doing ‘triage’ for city inspectors” Doug Page, June, 24, 2012
In the summer of 2012, the city of Dayton launched a pilot program to use citizens to perform some duties normally done by housing inspectors, adding to a culture of people taking responsibility for their neighbors. Dayton, Ohio is taking the initiative to change their community in their own hands because cities cannot afford to increase staff.


Real Property Information Systems

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“Toledo At The Tipping Point: Strategies for Reclaiming Vacant Properties and Revitalizing Neighborhoods” The National Vacant Properties Campaign Study Team- Joseph Schilling, Frank Ford, Dan Kildee, Kermit Lind, Jonathan Logan, August 1, 2008
The Vacant Properties Team studied Toledo, visiting the neighborhoods and public officials to get a sense of the vacancy problem blighting the area. They did an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the vacant property programs and policies already in place. The final report released shows how LISC-Toledo can assist local nonprofits and local governments solve the vacancy problem. Suggestions include creating a city-county vacant properties coordinating council and a real time property information system.

“Regenerating Youngstown and Mahoning County Through Vacant Property Reclamation” National Vacant Properties Campaign- Dan Kildee, Jonathan Logan, Alan Mallach, Joseph Schilling, February 2009
The National Vacant Properties Campaign’s (NVPC) project work in this report has two phases: 1) an assessment report that evaluates existing city and county vacant property systems and 2) an action plan of next steps for implementing the report’s recommendations. NVPC recommends the creation of a neighborhood typology so that solutions appropriately match challenges facing specific neighborhoods and communities. Many cities compile this information in a real property information system.

“Develop a Regional Property Information System and Network of Neighborhood Revitalization Plans” Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission
The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission recommends that Dayton utilize a tool called a regional property information system, sometimes known as real property information system. Identifying specific action items for the creation of such a system, MVRPC’s white paper highlights the required information needed in the system including: an inventory of vacant properties, tax delinquencies, foreclosures, ownership information, etc.

“Neighborhood Stabilization Information System Requirements and Design Plan” NBT Solutions, March 2, 2009
NBT Solutions conducted feasibility study for the City of Buffalo that investigated how best to design an information system that would support the city’s efforts to abate vacant and abandoned properties. NBT Solutions recommended the creation of an online GIS-based system to organize the data into maps for more user friendly access and outlined how best to utilize existing software and processes already in place in various local government offices. This resource could be of great use to communities exploring how they would build their own comprehensive property database or tracking system.

“Putting Data to Work: Data-Driven Approaches to Strengthening Neighborhoods” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, December 2011
The report by the Board of Governors compiles many reports from throughout the nation including those written by: The Urban Institute, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Brookings Institution, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, The Reinvestment Fund, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, SZ Consulting LLC, and Hope Enterprise Corporation. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s article specifically addresses real information property systems (report starts page 79). Richmond is implementing the Vacant to Value (V2V) initiative which applies aspects of real-time tracking of vacant properties, categorization of markets, establishment of new city policies and procedures, and identification of specific investment activity at a block or neighborhood level.

Green Strategies

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“On the Road to Reuse: Residential Demolition Bid Specification Development Tool,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, September 2013
This report provides greener bid specification development tools for cities, counties or land banks undertaking large-scale residential demolitions. The purpose of the report is to assist public entities with the inclusion of greener practices in the demolition bid specification used during the contracting process. The use of environmentally beneficial demolition will result in better site conditions and will better prepare vacant lots for future reuse.

“A lighter, quicker, cheaper way to use vacant spaces” Carl Vogel (The Institute for Comprehensive Community Development) March 19, 2012
Vogel discusses cheaper ways to “beautify” abandoned and vacant buildings until investors are able to get back into the game of risk. Practices from Denver, New Orleans, and Chicago brighten the outlook for more vibrant communities while they wait for proper investment.

“A Blueprint for a Profitable Urban Farm” Nate Berg, June 5, 2012
Nate Berg, a journalist of the Atlantic Cities, discusses the idea of urban agriculture on vacant and abandoned properties. Using Youngstown, Ohio as its testing ground, the report by Global Green USA assesses the feasibility of turning residential land into a working form.

“Vacant to Vibrant: A guide for revitalizing vacant lots in your neighborhood” Carnegie Mellon University, Fall 2006
As described in the report by the Carnegie Mellon Heinz School, the city of Pittsburgh is tackling the issue of vacant lots in neighborhoods by offering green solutions. Green strategies are environmentally friendly land management methods that improve quality of life, enhance neighborhood interactions, increased recreational opportunities, and stimulate local economies. Examples of projects that use green strategies are community gardens, parks, urban farms, and greenways.

“Blueprint Buffalo- Using Green Infrastructure to Reclaim America’s Shrinking Cities” Joseph Schilling
The article by a prominent researcher of vacant and abandoned properties proposes a new right-sizing model that could be broadly deployed to address the decay and blight caused by vacant and abandoned properties. Green infrastructure initiatives, in combination with land banking and community-driven planning can right-size a shrinking city.

“Congratulations, Clarendon... Portland's 40th Community Garden!” Abby Warren, March 2012
Thanks to legislation in Portland making it easy to turn vacant land into community parks, the neighborhood near the closed Clarendon School was able to turn this vacant lot into Portland’s 40th community garden. This newspaper article describes the numerous partners involved with effort, demonstrating that neighborhood revitalization is a community-wide effort.

“Revitalizing Cities with Innovative Parks” American Society of Landscape Architects, June 2010
The American Society of Landscape Architects lists practices for cities to take in order to create green space in urban environments.

“Inside a Chicago green building success story” Alec Appelbaum, March 2012
By reforming their policies for “greening” existing buildings, the City of Chicago was able to speed up the process of green retrofits. The process was streamlined and the city partnered with private companies to make energy efficiency a priority. Working with small landlords, the city and financial supporters were able to quicken the pace of “greening” many Chicago residencies.

“Woodward windows reflect Detroit’s art” Sarah Hunton, March 2012
Empty storefronts in Detroit have now been filled with art thanks to a partnership between a nonprofit art organization and the landlords. This partnership has allowed artists to show off their works in empty storefront windows without paying rent. At the same time interest in the area and the price of storefronts up for sale has increased dramatically.

“Pappajohn Sculpture Park gives Des Moines new heart” Michael Morain, September 2009
The PappaJohn’s donation of many outdoor art sculptures to the city of Des Moines was able to transform a decrepit block of the city into a new green space. As the largest public gift in Iowa history (appraised at $40 million), this sculpture garden represents a private-public partnership in art-based urban revitalization.

“Seeding Prosperity and Revitalizing Corridors” Chris Koch and Fred Brown, June 21, 2012
This presentation was given at the National Vacant and Abandoned Properties 2012 Conference in New Orleans. Koch and Brown show how Larimer and East Liberty neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, PA are working to initiate a green urban plan into the community. With a large amount of vacant land available for urban farming, they evaluate the benefits of using education and community involvement to revitalize the neighborhood.

“Greening Neighborhood Plans: Rochester, NY” Bret Garwood, June 21, 2012
Presented at the National Vacant and Abandoned Properties 2012 Conference in New Orleans, this overview describes the efforts to revitalize a struggling Rochester neighborhood. The Josana Neighborhood Master Plan focuses on urban and green strategies to revitalize the community, including the use of mustard plants and sunflowers to decontaminated soil in vacant lots through phytoremediation.

“Red Fields to green fields: Urban Greening Program: Revitalizing Neighborhoods into vibrant, healthy communities” Georgia Institute of Technology
Wilmington, Delaware has developed a neighborhood master plan that will guide the transformation of the west side of Wilmington into a vibrant community by developing green efforts and community development. Georgia Institute of Technology has developed five activities to solve the problem: 1) establish site control 2) convert obsolete vacant properties to green assets 3) redevelop pivotal vacant properties to strengthen existing green space 4) enhance linkages 5) promote community engagement and active living.


Academic Journal Articles

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“The Revitalization of Vacant Properties Where Broken Windows Meet Smart Growth” Joseph M. Schilling
Schilling utilizes case studies by Portland, San Diego, and Richmond to examine the strategies used to address vacant properties. Outlining partnerships, stages in the lifecycle of property acquisition and responsible transfer, and policy recommendations to maximize local government efforts, this report provides a road map for small and large communities that are struggling with vacant properties.

“Pittsburgh TODAY Nobody Home: The Rise of Vacancy” Jeffery Fraser, September 2011
The report by Pittsburgh today—a project of the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh—compares regional successes and profiles the impact of vacancy on four communities and the Pittsburgh region as a whole through a journalistic view.

“Restoring Properties, Rebuilding Communities Transforming Vacant Properties In Today’s America” Jennifer R. Leonard and Alan Mallach, September 2010
This report outlines the causes of the housing crisis, local responses, and the policy barriers that remain in the way of stabilization and revitalization. Chronicling how the crisis has affected these areas and what local and state policies have done, this report offers local, state and federal recommendations for transforming vacant properties.


This Clearinghouse will be updated once a month on the first Friday. Please feel free to send us information about your own successes or of best practices that you know of that aren’t listed here: