The term “blight” comes from agriculture. It is, however, now mostly used to describe urban neighborhoods suffering from a range of problems caused by lack of care. As with agricultural blight, urban blight can spread quickly, if left untreated and cause serious damage to those affected.
The causes of urban blight
Urban blight can be caused by one or more of a range of factors. It is often the unintended consequence of well-meaning policy decisions. For example, rent-controls may help to make the cost of living more affordable, but by reducing a landlord’s income, they reduce the funds available for property maintenance. This can result in properties falling into disrepair.
Similarly, urban-planning decisions can accidentally trigger the downward spiral into urban blight. For example, encouraging new employment centers and the transport routes to serve them can make some areas more desirable and others less so. The areas which become less desirable can then slowly fall into decay and hence urban blight.
The effect of urban blight
Urban blight does far more than just reduce property prices. It can push areas into a slide from which it is hard to recover. As an area becomes more blighted it becomes less desirable. As it becomes less desirable, people who can move elsewhere do so. This leaves people who, for whatever reason, can’t move and vacant buildings that are open to abuse.
Countering urban blight
The fact that urban blight has so many possible causes means that there’s no universal remedy for it. There are, however, several potential steps that can be taken either individually or in combination. Sometimes remaining local residents (and local authorities) can take ownership of these steps themselves. Sometimes, however, outside help is required.
Literally cleaning up an area can go a long way towards countering the early stages of urban blight. It can also form a part of more in-depth regeneration programs. In addition to dealing with litter and debris, cosmetic improvements can include landscaping measures.
This can mean anything from planting trees and erecting fences to grading and zoning the land to creating new outdoor facilities such as communal green spaces and children’s play areas.
Government remediation programs
Over the years, the Federal government has taken various measures to remedy urban blight. These have included the Federal Urban Renewal Program and the Federal Empowerment Zone program. State governments and nonprofits may also have their own programs.
At present, it is unclear what funds will be made available where, when, and on what basis. It is, however, reasonable to assume that once COVID-19 is brought under control (and its economic consequences mitigated), there will be a renewed focus on tackling urban blight.
Build to rent is basically what the name suggests. Investors build properties, typically apartment blocks or complexes, to let out as individual units. It typically works best when an area has been cleared of the worst impact of urban blight. In other words, once the slide has been stopped, the investor can help the area to pull itself up again.
This is a win for investors, tenants, and neighborhoods alike. Investors get into an area when it is on the cusp of an upward trend. This means they have great prospects from the short through the long term. Tenants get high-quality, affordable properties, managed in a coherent way. Neighborhoods become more attractive and hence start to move in the right direction.
Urban blight is a complex issue with many causes. If left unaddressed, it can devastate neighborhoods and communities. Fortunately, it can be treated through local efforts, government intervention, and private investment.