Northeast-Midwest Institute Delivers Key Research on Vacant and Abandoned Properties

Established in 1977 as a nonpartisan research, education and policy non-profit, the Northeast-Midwest Institute’s (NEMWI) mission is to promote economic vitality, environmental quality, and regional equity for the 18 Northeastern and Midwestern states. The Institute has established itself as an unbiased, reliable source of information around topics such as city revitalization, water quality, waterborne trade and transportation, and manufacturing, specifically as they relate to the 18 states that comprise the Northeast and Midwest United States.  The impetus for the organization came from the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition, whose members, concerned about regional equity in the distribution of federal funds and programmatic support, knew that they had to unite their voices as much as possible to advocate effectively for this region. A similar group in the Senate concurred.

The Institute provides sound information to regional stakeholders and the elected officials of the Northeast and Midwest. Elected officials, regardless of interests, perspective or political party, rely upon the organization’s research and analysis to inform policy.

Within the framework of the mission, the policy agenda evolves with emerging needs. According to Senior Policy Analyst Dr. Colleen Cain, “Geography is the tie that binds the work together. We cover a broad range of topics and use a variety of approaches – hard science, social science, policy analysis and outreach, for example – but it all comes back to the needs of the Northeast and Midwest states.”

Among other things, NEMWI is currently focused on vacant and abandoned properties.

City Revitalization – Vacant and Abandoned Properties

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The Washburne School, Chicago (NEMW Photo)

Within the broad topic area of revitalizing older cities, the organization has a history of researching and providing information on brownfields, demographic shifts, downtown revitalization, vacancies and similar issues. While the cities of the Northeast and Midwest states have dealt with population decline and vacant and abandoned properties for years, the recent foreclosure crisis has exacerbated the problem. The problem with vacancy and abandonment is particularly acute in the Northeast and Midwestern states: according to the U.S. Census, among the 75 largest cities in the U.S., 13 of the 25 cities suffering the most from vacancy and abandonment are located in Northeast and Midwest states.

In response to the call for more knowledge and research to inform policy discussions, the NEMWI in late May released a report on the problems and causes of vacancy and abandonment in the Northeast and Midwest, as well as the state of federal resources intended to help alleviate this issue.

NEMWI found that the federal government offers many programs – approximately 25 – that can support building rehabilitation, land reuse and/or demolition work. Unfortunately, funding for the largest and most stable programs, such as CDBG and HOME, has decreased over the years (when adjusted for inflation), while the number of CDBG entitlement communities has doubled since the inception of the program. Similarly, funding for Brownfields State and Tribal Response Grants has remained stagnant even as demand has increased. The Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program has been hugely helpful, but is limited in several ways. The six eligible states are able to use the funds only for demolition of residential, land bank-owned properties, and the fund is set to expire in 2020.

The report includes a list of these programs, as well as a menu of policy options that the federal government may want to consider.

Interestingly, the research also led to a greater understanding of the type of information available to assess the scope and scale of vacancy and abandonment. Though vacancy and abandonment spans all sectors of real estate – commercial, industrial and residential – comprehensive information is largely limited to residential properties.