Tear ‘Em Down

From the WSJ.

So far, Washington has put its political capital into trying to refinance salvageable homes for unsalvageable homeowners, when a relevant policy would consist of judiciously buying unsalvageable houses and demolishing them. Fannie and Freddie’s strength is housing market software: They could be put to work devising a least-cost, maximum-bang strategy for demolishing unoccupied homes to preserve as much value as possible for the homeowners and mortgage creditors who remain.

I cannot think of any areas/developments in the Charlottesville region that would be candidates for a demolition and reclamation strategy, but on one level, this makes sense. The government has exercised this strategy in so-called blighted areas before; why not now?

One would think that very few of the so-called “targeted areas” would have much historical significance, and likely very few are “affordable.” Think of the jobs that could be created.

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  1. Julie Emery July 30, 2008 at 08:50

    There’s not much in our area that could be considered blighted either. And, while I might like to see some of the new subdivisions deconstructed (and materials salvaged and reused!) I’m not sure it’s feasible. I would like to see a partnership between government and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to get some of the foreclosed homes in the hands of families who have qualified through the Habitat process.

    Not much evidence that this kind of thing is happening anywhere.

  2. Scott R July 30, 2008 at 09:22

    Hahaha…I completely disagree! Although this is horribly politically incorrect, there are significant portions of the Rosehill, 10th & Page (Westhaven?), Starr Hill, Fifeville and Belmont neighborhoods with housing stock which is ideal for tear-downs. The in-town location of the land is ideal – particularly for folks who want your “walkable neighborhoods” – and have housing stock which is really not worth preservation.

    The problem with the city’s existing ‘redevelopment’ attempts (the notorious properties at 10th & Page come to mind), is that they are ridiculously overpriced – just on size – setting aside the quality of the neighborhood. They were naked attempts at gentrification.

    It would be nice to see more of that awful housing stock demolished and new stock, ala Habitat for Humanity, which is genuinely affordable for the existing homeowners (hint: under $100k), come in as infill.

    I don’t think our MSA has the inventory glut the WSJ is targeting – they’re picturing Detroit, and you could not offend them more that Democrats are going to get to dole out government money to their constituents – so this would not address the price issues here. We really just need to get the price-to-income ratios back in line.

    I still believe we’ve got a substantial amount of existing stock which is perfect, particularly in an expensive gasoline post-sprawl world, for tear-down redevelopment. I have the impression the Europeans have their slums on the sprawling outskirts, not the city centers, as we do here.

  3. Larry July 30, 2008 at 20:10


    It’s “politically incorrect” b/c the neighborhoods are black. But you’re 100% accurate. And given the recent gang-related activity in Belmont, yeah, there are whole streets that should get “a new start.” How’s that for a politically-correct euphemism?

  4. Scott R July 31, 2008 at 08:38

    Larry –

    Yes, I know well why it’s PI, and before I come off sounding too ugly – I used to live on West Main, and my neighbors there were among the best I’ve ever had, in spite of the crime.

    Much of the deterioration of the social fabric of those downtown neighborhoods has a great deal to do with the decision to engage in “urban renewal” by tearing down Vinegar Hill. That was a very shameful stain on our city.

    I think we ought to buy up some of the worst of this stock, and replace it with truly affordable stock – eliminate the need for “Friendship Court” and “Westhaven” – bulldoze them if possible. By truly affordable, I mean housing at DTI ratios where the same people who handle housekeeping for UVa can afford to actually manage a 30yr fixed loan. Actually, without the bubble, this is what we had. The city did tear down several of the worst crac-house properties, and left the lots vacant. That was a very good idea. The redevelopment was ridiculous.

    Those neighborhoods will never work as high-end gentrification spots, but they could start to rebuild by having rooted families – people with a real stake – start to move back in. There is a significant amount of that in the AA community here in Charlottesville.

    I think the “reclamation” stuff works where you have negative absorbtion rates. The trouble is – the minute the gov’t subsidizes it, then you have development which isn’t really economically sustainable. That’s why I like the habitat model; essentially the new owners really do pay for the property – so it’s economically sustainable development. I think that’s key.

    In any case, none of this will be relevant until close-in property, due to transit issues (cost, congestion) becomes more desirable than further out. Personally, I’d almost rather live in the 10th & Page neighborhood than Forest Lakes, but I don’t have children, and I hate the traffic on 29N.


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