The report, Deciphering Blight: Vacant Buildings Data Collection in the Chicago Six County Region, recommends several steps municipalities can take to improve and standardize data collection.

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The number of vacant homes has grown as a result of the foreclosure crisis, leaving the properties vulnerable to vandalism and blight. Vacant and abandoned buildings often depress surrounding property values and may attract crime to the area, particularly if the homes are not properly maintained. As of the end of 2012, nearly 70,000 properties in the Chicago region were vacant for more than two years.

The report released today documents the information local governments currently collect about vacant buildings and finds the data being collected varies widely among the municipalities, with significant gaps:

  • The vast majority of the municipalities collected comprehensive data on contact information for parties responsible for vacant properties.
  • More than half of municipalities collected information that could uniquely identify the property.
  • Half of the municipalities did not collect information on the nature of the vacant property.
  • Data collection on building code compliance varied widely among the municipalities.

“As municipalities consider strategies to address the vacant buildings problem, collection of accurate and comprehensive data should be a priority,” said Woodstock Institute president Dory Rand. “This report shows that some communities are missing opportunities to collect data that could enhance strategic planning and redevelopment decisions.”

The report makes several recommendations on data collection practices that would allow the municipalities to better understand the scope of the vacant buildings problem in their communities, inform strategies for property redevelopment and reuse, and keep track of responsible parties for the vacant properties:

  • Structure vacant buildings ordinances to promote data accuracy and regular updates.
  • Include a unique identifier for each property within the database.
  • Require collection of contact information for a responsible party for the property, whether it is an owner, agent, or servicer.
  • Require updated information on compliance with municipal maintenance and fee requirements.
  • Require collection of information on key components of the nature of the property and the vacancy.
  • Store data in a machine-readable format.

Standardized registries that follow the recommended guidelines will help identify patterns and commonalities among areas with a concentration of vacant buildings in the region. “Creating  a registry that adheres to these principles will help governments and community groups identify policies to address the problem,” said Rand. “For example, better data on building conditions can inform estimates of demolition or redevelopment costs, or identify homes eligible for acquisition by a land bank.”

For more information, call Katie Buitrago at 312-368-0310 or