March 23, 2012

The Housing Gap: Increase in vacancy rates prompt action

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In Urbana, vacant housing units more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, going from nearly 1,000 units to more than 2,100

In Champaign, the number increased almost by half, from nearly 1,500 to more than 2,200 in vacant housing units.

In Danville, the number went up a fifth, from 1,559 to nearly 1,876

Altogether, according to Census data, the number of vacant housing units across Champaign and Vermilion counties has increased 43 percent between 2000 and 2010.

The Census data show that in the two counties about 7 percent of the housing was vacant, while as of 2010 nearly 9 percent is vacant.

This mirrors state and national trends.

A November federal report on the impact vacant properties have on the nation’s cities show that Illinois, at 56.6 percent increase over the past 10 years, is one of 20 states with the highest vacancy rates.

“During the continuing foreclosure crisis and economic downturn, increased numbers of vacant residential properties are becoming vandalized or dilapidated, attracting crime, and contributing to neighborhood decline in many communities across the country,” the report stated.

Further, state officials said that “abandoned properties burden communities by creating blight, attracting crime and reducing the local tax rolls. On average, homes located the same block as a foreclosed property can drop $8,000 to $10,000 in value.”

Residential property values across Champaign County declined 1.4 percent over last year, according to the Champaign County Assessor’s Office. In the City of Champaign, residential property dropped 2.1 percent and in the city of Urbana, residential property declined 2.8 percent.

“The decrease shows that over the last three years, the market has been down a little from where the current assessed values were at,” said Joe Meents, chief deputy of the Champaign County Assessment Office. “State of Illinois Department of Revenue says values should be at one-third of market value determined by a three-year sale study.”

Cities across the country are exploring ways to make better use of the increasing number of vacant properties, including introducing programs to bolster neighborhood quality.

The federal vacant property study reported that Chicago had a 60 percent increase in vacant properties between 2000 and 2010.

Earlier this year, Gov. Pat Quinn launched a $55 million pilot program to rehabilitate vacant properties and increase affordable housing in six communities in the Chicago area.

“The Illinois Building Blocks Pilot Program is a strategic effort to help stabilize communities struggling with the foreclosure crisis,” Quinn said in a news release. “By turning vacant properties into affordable housing, we’re assisting existing homeowners, strengthening hard-hit neighborhoods and boosting affordable homeownership options for working families.”

During a homeless survey in Danville, volunteers searched several vacant properties among the hundreds of abandoned homes and structures in the area, said Thom Pollock, executive director of Crosspoint Human Services.

“This year, there were far, far more abandoned homes. And when people went into them, they found insulation ripped out of them that were used for bedding,” he said. “That you could see fires have been started to keep people warm. These abandoned structures were providing some purpose. But they used to be homes for people. They used to be real homes and apartments that were available and functional. Now they’re ready to be torn down.”