Mobile Homes
June 11, 2019 10:32 AM   Subscribe

How Mobile, Alabama fought urban blight to restore abandoned houses. Why a small group of Government employees, including "a landscape architect, a dreadlocked anthropologist, and an industrial designer with a man bun", fought to change the state constitution to make it easier for the state to seize property - and how they did it. Also featuring the strategic deployment of bright pink stickers, a $22 plate of red beans and rice, and one determined "house-hugger".
posted by Gin and Broadband (14 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man, it always comes back to the 1901 Constitution in Alabama, don't it? I've never even tried to read the thing. The fact that we can't get a new constitution written and just keep amending the shitty racist one... well, it's very Alabama.

This is an excellent post, and I love Mobile. And I love the team's unofficial mantra of "Why can't that be fixed?"
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 11:11 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]


I live in Savannah, a "hot" real estate market, which still has some blighted areas. A few years ago I bought a termite-infested abandoned house and I'm very slowly making it habitable with a lot of volunteer labor from family and friends. I can't afford to pay a contractor to do it, but I have some highly-skilled adult offspring and friends. One of my neighbors is in her mid-seventies and, as far as I know, relies on a small Social Security check. Her house is slowly rotting away and she cannot afford to fix it. She can't get a loan to fix it, her income is too low. She owns it outright and the taxes are minimal; she can't afford to move.

I think we need more programs that help elderly and/or poor homeowners to stay in their houses. A training program for young people who want to go into the skilled trades. There have been such programs, but not enough. Maybe we need to look at a year or two of public service for all young people after high school. Youth Corps, Job Corps, and more.
posted by mareli at 11:54 AM on June 11 [29 favorites]


Blight is what happens when people get left behind. Blighted and vacant properties across the country have increased by 50% over the last 15 years.

ZOMG things suck. Great idea, mareli! Good post, OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:55 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


mareli: there is at least one program in Atlanta that does free repair work and maintenance on old people's homes, not sure if it would work for your neighbor but maybe worth checking - http://www.programsforelderly.com/housing-house-proud-atlanta-elderly.php
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:04 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


In New York City, Ed Koch tackled this problem head-on almost 40 years ago. It's his single greatest accomplishment as Mayor.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 12:49 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


This is the sort of program that seems like it could be good and could be very badly abused depending on who controls the content and weighting of that blight checklist.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:12 PM on June 11 [14 favorites]


I love that the new houses pictured in the article are stylistically compatible with the older neighborhoods in which they're being built.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:49 PM on June 11 [8 favorites]


The article is definitely worth reading. One part that I found interesting was the bimodal distribution of housing there, with options at the low and high ends but not much in the middle:
One reason Lofton lives outside the city is that there is limited middle-class housing in Mobile. Most of the people I met during my time in Mobile–people who are deeply invested in the city, whose love for the place comes even comes through in lengthy PowerPoint presentations on land banking–cannot find a house in Mobile that fits their budget. If you want to buy a bright white columned plantation-style house that looks like a cross between a bank and Tennessee Williams’s ancestral home, and you have over a million dollars to spend, Mobile is your place. And if you want to buy a three-room shotgun house for under $100,000, Mobile is also your place. But if you fall anywhere between those to poles, as many two-income families do–the median amount people spend on a house in the United States is $223,000–you are out of luck.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:40 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I’ve seen a study online (which i can’t find now) of abandoned properties in North Carolina. A common pattern in multi-generationally poor families happens where the death of the elderly homeowners causes the property to be owned by multiple children and adult grandchildren. No individual has enough money to buy out their relatives. There may be disputes about who gets to live there. When there are maintenance/repair costs, no one wants to be the one shouldering a disproportionate amount of the costs/work and may not have the money anyway. Eventually the property becomes uninhabitable.
posted by D.C. at 4:50 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


My old neighborhood in TN is blighted, with vacant lots spreading and 4 or 5 homes unoccupied and rotting, including the house across the street from my mom (which used to be occupied by a undertaker with a hilariously obscene taste in xmas candy), and a house that was once featured in the Green Book. I bought a house a few doors up, but only narrowly; the seller had to get about a dozen relatives in three states to agree to the sale and to complex splits of the money.

I'm now renting my house to someone in the family that owns the blighted house. He's trying to get things together to start rescuing it, but there's another complicated split ownership there.

Feels like I should be able to find a way to help him save it, but so far I'm struggling to find a path..
posted by joeyh at 6:27 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


A common pattern in multi-generationally poor families happens where the death of the elderly homeowners causes the property to be owned by multiple children and adult grandchildren. No individual has enough money to buy out their relatives. There may be disputes about who gets to live there. When there are maintenance/repair costs, no one wants to be the one shouldering a disproportionate amount of the costs/work and may not have the money anyway. Eventually the property becomes uninhabitable.

One of the reasons the article is worth reading is that they created a workaround for this exact problem. These aren't intractable issues, unless we let them be.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:00 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I suppose this is a generally unsung advantage of property tax schemes like Cali's Prop 8, that holds the taxes down for the elderly homeowners and then there's a big bump when the ownership changes. When the owners die, the ballooning property tax will force the heirs to get their act together and sell, instead letting it drift forever. Or else it will revert to the state for unpaid taxes, cutting short the blight.
posted by elizilla at 7:33 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Note I'm not saying Prop 8 is good. It has other problems. But this is one helpful thing.
posted by elizilla at 7:35 AM on June 12


. One part that I found interesting was the bimodal distribution of housing there, with options at the low and high ends but not much in the middle:

I think the author is either misunderstanding what the 'median US home price means' or taking artistic license with that paragraph. A quick look around Zillow says that a $223k home in Mobile has 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, around 3000 sq ft, and built in about 1980. That may be the US median price, but it's way above median for size, age, etc. Which means that it is not a median house for a place like Mobile just because it's the US median.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:07 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


« Older the market will solve it!   |   A Community Striving To Rebuild One Of The Poorest... Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.