municipalities should ramp up vacant–building data collection to help
address a problem that continues to ravage Chicago–area communities due
to the foreclosure crisis, according to a new report from the Woodstock
The "Deciphering Blight
" report looked
at the wide–ranging data that 47 local governments in the Chicago
six–county region currently collect through their
vacant property registries.
According to the
report, a majority of the local governments kept thorough data on the
parties responsible for vacant buildings. And more than half kept track
of a property’s unique identifier like a PIN number.
more than half of the municipalities did not collect data on the nature
of the vacancy, and many vacant building registries lacked other key
For example, just six municipalities
required information on when a building first became vacant, while only 13 vacant building registries asked whether a property was enclosed and
secure, the report found.
consider strategies to address the vacant buildings problem, collection
of accurate and comprehensive data should be a priority,” said Dory
Rand, Woodstock's president, in a statement. “This report shows that
some communities are missing opportunities to collect data that could
enhance strategic planning and redevelopment decisions.”
report noted that only two local governments keep information on the
reason for a building's vacancy, while 18 municipalities track pending
litigation against vacant properties.
Twelve of the
municipalities keep details on whether a building was inspected for code
compliance, while 10 required data regarding building complaints. Other
information that was collected less frequently among the municipalities
included details on plans to return a building back to productive use.
report's author, Katie Buitrago, senior policy and communications
associate at Woodstock, added that collecting comprehensive data can
also strengthen proposals for funding to help combat empty
buildings. Additionally, local municipalities and researchers would have a
better scope of the problem if local governments required more
information, she said.
Nearly 339,000 foreclosures
have been filed in the Chicago six–county region since 2008, and
136,800 foreclosures have gone to auction, at which point the property
typically becomes lender–owned. Typically, the properties are vacant by that time, the report reads.
The foreclosure crisis has exacerbated the number of vacant buildings in the area, the report noted. At
the end of 2012, more than 69,000 properties in the Chicago six–county
region were vacant for more than two years. In comparison, 23,990
properties were vacant for more than a two–year period in 2008, which
marked the beginning of the foreclosure crisis.
vacant or abandon buildings are troublesome, because they bring down
nearby property values, attract crime and pose significant costs to local
governments to maintain and police, Buitrago explained.
County Commissioner Bridget Gainer said the report's findings would
help inform the work of the Cook County land bank, which is focused on
reducing vacant homes. Ten percent of the county's housing stock is
vacant, she said.
The Cook County land bank is
working on a parcel–level project with data scientists that will turn
housing information gathered by DePaul University's Institute
for Housing Studies into visual explanations, including maps. The data
visualizations, for example, would be able to compare the density of
vacancies or buildings that are on their way into foreclosure with
nearby crime statistics.
Gainer said the data project will likely be operational by the fall and will be housed at and constantly updated by DePaul.
report also offered some data–collection recommendations, such as
structuring vacant building ordinances to promote data accuracy and
regularly updated information.
"We know it can be
difficult to keep this data updated, especially if all the work has to
be done by municipal staff, but there are ways to shift the burden ... to
spread the work of keeping the data up to date,” Buitrago said.
example, local governments could require owners to report whether a
building has been reoccupied or demolished. Information on a building's
condition could also be reported through 311 or mobile apps, she
The report also suggested that property
owners provide PIN numbers during the registration process that way the
life cycle of the building can be better understood.
the data should include details on compliance regarding municipal
maintenance and fees, which can help make code enforcement more
“Creating a registry that adheres to
these principles will help governments and community groups identify
policies to address the problem,” Rand said.