Many of us see these properties every day in our communities. They can be found near our homes, near our schools, and near our places of worship. I know exactly how frustrating it is—I live next door to a vacant lot where illegal dumping and trash buildup have proven to be a challenge to my neighbors and me.
And the problem is worse than it may seem at first glance. By simply existing, Atlanta’s vacant and blighted properties cost the city’s taxpayers between $1.6 million and $2.9 million each year in the administrative costs necessary to impose and enforce each citation.
Even worse, if you’re a homeowner and you live within 500 feet of a blighted property, then your home value drops by over 2 percent. Across the city, blight diminishes property values between $55 million and $153 million, which puts all taxpayers on the hook as this reduces the city’s revenues by as much as $2.7 million each year. This is money that could be better spent providing improved police and fire services, new sidewalks, or more efficient services at City Hall.
Furthermore, research shows that vacancy causes violent crime near foreclosed homes to increase by 15 percent and that vacant properties strongly correlate with incidences of assault. Just last summer, several dead bodies were found in vacant and abandoned homes close to Downtown. This is unacceptable.
Taxpayers take another hit because we’re ultimately helping to line the pockets of absentee property owners. These owners must only pay nominal fines (of up to $1,000) as they continue to neglect vacant and abandoned lots. And they’re largely incentivized to do so because these fines are significantly cheaper than the effort it would take to clean up the properties. For many absentee owners, this is just the cost of doing business. Yet, taxpayers must still pay for the city services necessary to address the problem. And this is worsened because many of these deadbeat owners are hiding behind shell LLCs, and there are few options for the city or county to prosecute them. That vacant lot next to my home that I mentioned before? The owner is a London-based trust with deep ties to white nationalism and neo-Nazis. This is unacceptable.
Unfortunately, the City of Atlanta is in a poor position to address these issues. The immense research necessary to correct or clarify county property documents (which could be months out of date) makes tracking down absentee owners difficult, and even impossible, in many cases. This is unacceptable.
The communities comprising southwest Atlanta are especially vulnerable to these problems. District 4 alone has the 2nd highest density of code violations in the entire city, which means everything I’ve described disproportionately affects our families, neighbors, and friends. This is unacceptable.
If elected to Atlanta City Council:
- I will work to reduce blight by proposing to hire the code enforcement officers and researchers necessary to improve the effectiveness of that department.
- I will work to significantly increase the fines for unoccupied properties with code violations, potentially resulting in criminal prosecution if violators don’t show up to court or if violations aren’t remedied.
- I will work with our state legislators to ensure that they sponsor legislation to provide greater flexibility for the city to use eminent domain as a remediation tool.
- I will work to encourage the city to ensure that vacant property condemnations expand land bank programs, which I believe are key to keeping housing in Atlanta affordable.
By addressing blight, we can get more Atlantans into homes, creating the clean, safe, and vibrant communities that our neighborhoods deserve.
Blight affects all of us, and we must act now.