Proactive and Reactive Responses to Blight

There are many strategies cities may deploy to prevent blight or to manage the abandoned lots left behind in the aftermath

By Mary Velan


Communities may find themselves combating blight if there is a major shift in local economics, demographics or social amenities. There are many strategies cities may deploy to prevent blight or to manage the abandoned lots left behind in the aftermath. Here are some examples of how local communities are reducing the impact of blight.

Memphis Mow-to-Own

Many cities across the country offer their residents a mow-to-own program designed to reduce blight while adding more property that can be taxed. These cities typically find themselves managing vacant lands that generate high maintenance costs. When this happens, municipalities can sell the vacant city and county land adjoining residential property to the owners as long as they promise to maintain and mow the land.

Memphis is the latest city to join the ranks of those offering mow-to-own programs. The Memphis City Council will credit residents who mow public property for three years. If the public lot costs between $500 and $10,000, and the resident pays a $175 administrative fee, the city will deed the resident the land at the end of the three-year period. The goal of the program is to reduce maintenance costs for the city and county on vacant properties, while also converting public land into taxable property again, Route Fifty reported.

The city of Memphis and Shelby County spend $8 million each year maintaining about 3,500 vacant lots in the county land bank - with 97 percent of this land within city limits. Memphis alone owns roughly 200 lots.

When individuals own property and are expected to maintain it, there is often a sense of pride and community that develops - even in low-income, underserved neighborhoods. If more residents pitch in to keep these properties well-maintained, the property value in the community stabilizes and further blight may be avoided. Nonprofits are also allowed to participate in the mow-to-own program as they accrue sweat equity by tending to the lots, Commercial Appeal reported.

Northern California Farming Incentives

While Memphis is working to protected land from further blight, Santa Clara County is leveraging a state law to boost urban agriculture and make better use of abandoned properties. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is making open space available to farmers by creating Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones in unincorporated sections of the county. Through the program, landowners who use vacated and blighted plots for growing vegetables and feeding farm animals will receive tax breaks, Mercury News reported.

The movement to add more urban agriculture into the region comes after Santa Clara County has last nearly half of its farmland over the past 30 years. The county wants to encourage individuals and organizations to grow food where people live and increase access to locally-sourced food. The county is utilizing state law AB 551 which removes regulations on urban farming and provides subsidies for small-scale farms. This law is enabling communities to attack blight by maximizing resources, boosting property values, eliminating food deserts and improving community health, Route Fifty reported.

To qualify for the urban farming program in Santa Clara County, lots must reside in areas home to at least 250,000 residents and must be bigger than 4,000 square feet but smaller than three acres. The land must be vacant of residents and landowners must commit to the farm project for a minimum of five years.

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