Vacant houses come with a high price tag. They can become breeding grounds for crime and dumping grounds for trash. Not surprisingly, these abandoned houses will drive down a neighborhood's property values and cost us all tax dollars -- both in the form of revenue not being collected from property taxes and the expenses associated with local governments having to step in to prevent vacant properties from becoming complete wastelands.
The estimated number of vacant houses in the Greater Kansas City area exceeds 15,000.
Each dwelling remodeled through Jackson County Constructing Futures is one less vacant house that is a blight on its neighborhood and one more home that is returned to the property tax rolls.
MORE ABOUT THE COSTS OF VACANT HOMES
Vacant homes often become havens for squatters, vandals, thieves, vagrant partiers and worse. They also become prime targets for arson. Vacant homes are frequently transformed into drug houses -- where drug abusers use their illegal narcotics, or where drug traffickers will either distribute their products or set up labs to manufacture toxic, potentially combustible substances such as meth.
Vacant homes are tempting targets for arsonists, but also drug users and drug dealers.
According to a study the Georgia Institute of Technology and Chicago-based Woodstock Institute conducted, when a neighborhood sees a 1 percent increase in foreclosures –- which leads directly to more boarded up vacant houses –- there is a 2.33 percent jump in violent crime in that neighborhood. That study was conducted in 2005 before the housing bubble burst.
Because there literally is no one home to complain, vacant houses are used to dump debris that attracts rodents, mosquitoes and other pests – all of which can compromise the health of those who live near these properties.
Appraisers have to report to lenders any vacant or boarded-up homes near your house. That drives down the value of your property. But the problem goes beyond just trying to sell your home. It can also impact your ability to simply refinance your mortgage and get a lower interest rate.
Arson or other criminal activity associated with a vacant home in your neighborhood can cause your insurance company to raise your rates or even cancel your homeowner’s policy.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article on the growing vacant home problem in Kansas City, Missouri in 2008. The Post-Gazette reported in the 2007 fiscal year, alone, Kansas City was trying to collect $1.4 million for mowing weeds, hauling trash and boarding up or tearing down vacant houses. But in the end it’s usually taxpayers left holding the bill because the vacant property’s legal owner can’t be located.
Just how many vacant homes are in the Kansas City area? The Kansas City star reported January 12, 2011 that the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City estimated that one in 10 city residential properties was vacant. In some neighborhoods, however, that number shifts to one in four. The Kansas City Director of Neighborhood and Community Services told The Star there are between 10,000 and 11,000 vacant homes within Kansas City, Missouri -- a number that matches the Reserve Bank's estimate of 10 percent.
Jackson County Constructing Futures is committed to providing the unskilled, underskilled, unemployed and/or underemployed an opportunity to learn construction skills on the job through performing the restoration work of vacant homes. These individuals receive hands-on training using equipment and building materials. This is precisely the kind of training they'll need to secure long-term employment in construction.
Some of the construction apprentices trained through the program were formerly incarcerated; others have gone through Jackson County's Drug Court system.
The Missouri Department of Corrections has released an average of 19,712 inmates per year during the last decade. The ability find and maintain employment is vital to reducing recidivism. State Department of Correction figures show that among those individuals who successfully complete probation or parole, 73% are employed.
MORE ABOUT RECIDIVISM & PUBLIC SAFETY
Jackson County has a significant interest in trying to rehabilitate ex-prisoners. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections' 2011 Profile of the Institutional and Supervised Offender Population, there were 3,578 people from Jackson County being held in the state's prisons. Based on those figures, one can assume that many of the more than 19,000 inmates that the state Department of Corrections releases each year will be returning to Jackson County. Helping more of these individuals become productive citizens is a matter of public safety.
Accurately determining how many homeless people are in the Greater Kansas City area is not easy. The Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City conducts "Point In Time" surveys each year. On January 26, 2011, the survey revealed that there were 1,880 homeless people in Jackson County alone.
Jackson County Constructing Futures' success has been made possible due to the partnerships that Jackson County has forged with several nonprofit organizations and businesses. Particularly important is the relationship we've built with Connections to Success, our partner and non-profit fiscal agent for the Jackson County Constructing Futures program.
The program has also attracted many volunteers and received donations for appliances, as well as building materials from many generous businesses and organizations throughout the community.
Jacqueline (left) and Symone Scott (right) receive a hug after setting foot in their new home, presented to them through the Jackson County Constructing Futures program in August of 2010.
Jackson County Constructing Futures provides unskilled and unemployed individuals on-the-job training they can use to find permanent employment.
Brad Lambert, Executive Director of Connections to Success, led a volunteer work crew to provide the finishing touches on the second Jackson County Constructing Futures home.