Abandoned Properties
in the United States

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What are abandoned properties?

Abandoned properties fulfill at least one of the following conditions:

They pose a threat to public safety, meeting the definition of a public nuisance


The owners or managers neglect the fundamental duties of property ownership such as failing to pay taxes or utilities or defaulting on mortgage payments

What gets abandoned?

Beyond houses, there are a variety of property types that become abandoned and meet the conditions identified above. Each property type raises unique challenges for policy makers, urban planners, and tax payers.

Hover over the icons to find out more.

The Vicious Cycle of
Abandoned Properties

Property becomes abandoned for a variety of reasons - most often due to achange in the economy that lead to a lack of funds to maintain it. The underlying reasons also don't tend to just impact a single home owner but entire neighborhoods and cities. Abandoned properties pose a serious problem for communities.

But why exactly are abandoned properties a problem?

  • Crime: Vacant properties often become a breeding ground for crime, tying up an inordinate amount of police resources.

  • Arson and Accidental Fires: The US Fire Administration reports that over 12,000 fires in vacant structures are reported each year in the US, resulting in $73 million in property damage annually.

  • Public Nuisances and Health: The local governments must clean and care for abandoned property to prevent a buildup of trash, illegal dumping, and rodent infestations. In some cases, abandoned properties contain toxic waste, particularly in the case of abandoned industrial buildings.

  • Lost Tax Revenue: Vacant properties reduce city tax revenues in three ways:
    • they are often tax delinquent
    • their low value means they generate little in taxes
    • and they depress property values across an entire neighborhood.

  • Lower Property Values: Vacant properties generate little in taxes – but, perhaps more importantly, they rob surrounding homes and businesses of their value. Explore the map here to understand what that means.

Property abandonment is just a symptom of an underlying disease

Declining population, economic crises and rising poverty are among the key non-natural factors that are associated with this phenomenon.

Explore the declining city populations in the charts below
(ordered from highest to lowest percent change)

A gradualreduction in city population can cause higher vacancy rate of homes and other property types within that city. The cities on the right are the ones that have lost at least 20% of their population since 1950. Detroit presents a glaring example - its population has declined by 62% since 1950 after the city's lifeblood, the automobile industry, could not profitably compete globally anymore.

Economic crises can cripple cities affecting large scaleforeclosures and declines in property values,making them less attractive to buyers. Detroit shows a glaring example of this phenomenon during the economic resession of 2008, when tax foreclosures increased significantly and home values dropped in addition to continuous flight of people.

Vacancy Rate Compared with Other City Characteristics

In addition to the underlying disease of abandoned properties, there are multiple characteristics about a city that have correlation with property vacancy rate. The graph below represents this relationship for 20 cities in the United States - 10 cities with the highest vacancy rates in red and 10 cities with the lowest vacancy rates in green. Click on the buttons below to look at this relationship.

A case study on Chicago

Many major cities in the United States have experienced increase in vacancy rates and they continue to struggle to deviseeffective programs and policies to mitigate the dangers of abandoned properties. Among these cities, Chicago has gone through a series of transformations in trying to form responses to these properties since the late 1940 to even now.

Let's first take a look at Chicago's facts.

3rd Biggest City

Chicago City

Increase in Crime

Chicago Murder

+1% in Population since 2010

Chicago Population

Chicago is the 3rd biggest city in the US by population, after New York City and Los Angeles.

In recent years, there has been an increase in different type of criminal activities in Chicago such as homicides, shootings, and robberies.

From 2010 to 2015, Chicago's population grew by 1%.

Down arrow

Chicago's efforts to fight vacancy rates go back to the 1940s

Chicago Timeline

311 Calls for abandoned homes in Chicago

As depicted above, Chicago has implemented multiple efforts to fight the problems associated with abandoned properties. Yet, these problems still persist,most notably crime. In 2008, the Chicago expanded their 311 city services line for residents to call and report about abandoned properties in their neighborhoods. Information collected from these calls have been aggregated into a dataset and the city has made it available for the public. As a result, Chicago residents can become more aware of their locations and projects can begin to focus on certain neighborhoods/areas.

To provide a tool to better visualize locations and snippet of the property's data, this map showsall 311 calls for abandoned homes that the city of Chicago received in 2016 and 2017. To explore the map, provide a location or double-click the map to zoom in.

eg: Ogden Park or 232 N Carpenter Street

The economic impact of abandoned homes on adjacent property

Each point represents the location of a house that the City of Chicago received a 311 call for between 2016 and 2017.

Impact on property prices
RadiusMonetary impact
within 150 ft: -$7,627
within 300 ft: -$6,819
within 450 ft: -$3,542

What you can do

In order to prevent undesirable outcomes, residents should be proactive and look for ways to help the neighborhood's well-being. Here are some actions community members can take when there is an abandoned property in the neighborhood:

Call 311

Report abandoned homes so that city officials can inspect them.

Rally the neighborhood

Collaborate with your community to find new solutions to this old problem.

Identify the property owners

Often, the owners are banks. Ask them to take care of the property.

Stay safe

Do not enter abandoned homes and inform others of the risks.

Created as a final project for I247 - Information Visualization and Presentation taught by Professor Marti Hearst at UC Berkeley.
Sources are available here.
The Github code for this project can be found here.
Created by Liz, Usman, and Carina.