Blight Remediation in the Southeast: Local Approaches to Design and Implementation

Ann Carpenter, Emily Mitchell, and Shelley Price
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Community and Economic Development Department
Discussion Paper 2015-5
November 2015

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Blight—or the proliferation of vacant, abandoned, or poorly maintained properties—is a critical community issue in many cities in the Southeast as in other regions of the United States, as economic shifts experienced in the past few decades have changed neighborhoods significantly. Municipalities dealing with this issue recognize what is well documented in the literature—that blight is associated with social, economic, environmental, and public health effects on neighborhoods. The recent recession has led to a surge of abandoned and bank-owned properties, disproportionately located in poor and unstable neighborhoods. The causes of blight vary by city and even by neighborhood, but many cities are dealing with blighted parcels as a result of some combination of suburbanization, population decline, job losses (particularly in the manufacturing sector), foreclosures, and natural events that render structures or lots unusable. Southeastern cities are also unique in that lower population densities often deter revitalization.

To understand how various blight remediation strategies have been implemented, we selected two case study communities for analysis, which included extensive interviews with local stakeholders. We chose New Orleans, Louisiana, and Macon, Georgia, based on their location, size, the extent of their blight issues, and their commitment to blight remediation. New Orleans and Macon have each experienced significant blight and are leaders in the Southeast in creating and refining robust strategies for combating blight.

This paper describes several findings in terms of regional blight remediation efforts. Lessons learned include the importance of data collection and visualization, the need for an overarching, jurisdiction-wide blight strategy, the value of transparent and realistic metrics, the need for strong leadership and strategic partnerships that leverage political will and resources, the need for public participation, and the effectiveness of strategies such as strong code enforcement and land banking over expropriation or eminent domain.

JEL Classification: H70, K11, R11, R38

Key words: blight, vacant property, code enforcement, local policy


The authors would like to thank the experts in New Orleans, Macon, Birmingham, Dallas, and Jacksonville who participated in these interviews. In addition, the authors thank Karen Leone de Nie, Dan Immergluck, Sara Toering, and Joe Schilling for their thoughtful feedback. The views expressed here are the authors' and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.

Comments to the authors are welcome at Ann Carpenter@atl.frb.org and Emily.Mitchell@atl.frb.org.