In Mobile, an Institutional Revamp to Tackle Blight
Hana Schank explores the legal and policy changes in Mobile, Alabama, that have helped the city turn around a blight problem that was consuming neighborhoods, exacerbating segregation, and hindering economic development.
The city's innovation team, a project funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and a mayor who made blight a priority have been instrumental in altering how blight is defined, identified, and addressed as well as the legal underpinnings related to ownership of properties.
The innovation team started identifying "blight zones," instead of individual structures, and developed an index that has helped the city’s blight task force more effectively pinpoint properties where action is needed. The city also stopped issuing fines and instead started giving owners the opportunity to make repairs. If they failed to do so, the city would take on the task and then place a lien on the property for the costs.
Schank details the history of the onerous state property laws that made it difficult for the city to get new owners into repaired homes. "Last year, prompted in large part by the Mobile innovation team’s work, the Alabama state house passed HB430, which allows cities to use municipal liens, rather than tax delinquency, to claim ownership of a property."
The number of blighted properties in Mobile has dropped by almost half in four years, says Schank. "This is the story of how one city reduced blight, but it is also the story of what happens when cities think differently about how to solve their problems, when politicians are willing to embrace policies that might not line up with the party line, when city workers look beyond band-aid solutions."