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Andrea Batista Schlesinger

Monday’s Marketplace— Housing Alchemy

Monday our conversation is about some very practical magic. Turning vacant property into affordable housing is the urban planning equivalent of alchemy--turning lead into gold.

At Monday’s Marketplace of Ideas event featuring Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino we ask a fundamental question:

What kind of cities do we want to live in?

We know that space in our cities is finite. We know that our resources are therefore limited. We know that we want to keep cities as functional and inhabitable as possible to prevent suburban sprawl and its accompanying environmental nightmare consequences.

On Monday morning, Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino will talk about how he decided that keeping properties vacant in a city with an affordable housing crisis was no longer acceptable. No matter if those properties were owned by a private individual, sitting on it to wait until the value increased before taking it to productive use. Vacant properties prevent economic development and bring down the value, and spirit, of communities.

It is the Drum Major Institute’s belief that reality is the best place from which to make public policy. And in this case, reality means knowing how many spaces lay unproductive that could be reclaimed to the cause of affordable housing. So Mayor Menino started counting. And then planning. And from 1997 to 2006 Menino reduced the number of abandoned properties by 66% - and the number of abandoned *residential* buildings decreased by 77%.

Of course this was all part of a larger plan for affordable housing in Boston. And when it comes to affordable housing, said Nicolas Retsinas, Director of the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, Menino “does something most mayors don’t do – he puts a number and a date in the same sentence.”

People across the country are tackling this issue. In fact, 600 people gathered in September for a “Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference.” While the challenges are different – cities like Boston and New York are hot spots with rising real estate value, but cities like Buffalo are motivated to reduce abandonment in order to rebuild their fragile communities and economies – the goal is the same.

After all, as Will Rogers said of land, “They ain't making any more of the stuff.”

We have a fantastic panel lined up. Borough President Scott Stringer undertook the first vacant land survey in Manhattan, revealing almost 2,300 vacant properties. Brad Lander directs the Pratt Center for Community Development, which works for a more just, equitable, and sustainable city for all New Yorkers by empowering communities to plan and realize their futures. Carlton Collier is executive director of the Parodneck Foundation which has played a leading role in providing financial, technical and organizing assistance to New York City's self-help housing and community development efforts.

There’s so much linked to this very issue, from the anticipated surge in abandoned properties that will result from the subprime crisis to what property rights look like in a post Kelo- world to how urban property taxation systems should reflect their values.

So join us on Monday morning in the Marketplace of Ideas

Andrea Batista Schlesinger: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 1:01 PM, Nov 16, 2007 in Cities | Housing | Middle-class squeeze | New York
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