Abandoned Homes in a Village

by Lucy
(Deposit, NY)

In our tiny Village we have so many homes that have been abandoned. There are no jobs available in our area and the few jobs that there are pay such low wages no one wants them.

As our seniors pass away, their children have long left and do not want the houses and cannot sell them either. Prices for a home in our Village run as low as $30,000 and as high (if you want to call it high) as $150,000. Taxes average $3,000. Our homes are mostly historic, built between 1800 and 1890.

It's a beautiful little Village, but with all the empty abandoned homes, it's beginning to look like a ghost town. Our young people move away as soon as they are finished with school.

Do you have any suggestions on how we can revitalize our beautiful little Village back to the thriving place it once was?

Editors Reply: You are not alone in having this problem. Many rural communities are really struggling, unless they happen to be along an interstate highway or in an area popular with tourists.

The abandoned homes are largely the symbol of the problem, and not the root cause. But you are right to be concerned about them because vacant properties accentuate the fact that no one wants them.

The root cause, and the one that deserves the most attention, is the lack of jobs. Your community will never look like a thriving little village unless there are some jobs--or unless you turn yourselves into a retirement mecca. To add jobs will require some assistance from economic development professionals. To get in touch with someone local who has enough expertise to offer good specific advice, look to your university extension service, local or nearby college or university, regional planning council or private organization, and lastly state government.

If you are large enough to have a business person's association or chamber of commerce, of course work with them first so that you can go together to seek some outside help.

Should there be any businesses in town that look as if they might have capacity to add jobs, get together with a friend or two and go see that business. Ask for frank feedback about what would be required to boost their employment. Sometimes their objections would be problems strictly internal to their particular business, but at other times, you might hear about discouragement with the community or some problem that might be resolved by the community.

Of course adding jobs (or increasing the wages that your existing employers are able to offer) does not happen overnight. In the meantime, it would be a good idea to work on some other fronts.

You mention that taxes may be $3,000 per year for a residence. Work with your village government and the local school district to see if there is any way that this amount could be lowered; in many parts of the country those would be considered very high real estate taxes. Figures such as this are discouraging to potential new residents and even to employers.

Lastly, you may want to make a concerted effort to work on one abandoned home at a time. If there is literally no market for homes there, you may need to work with your county and state government to try to obtain direct assistance for the Village to purchase and then demolish homes. It is a shame to demolish historic structures, but if they become severely dilapidated, that is a signal to the rest of the community that there is no sense investing in property upkeep themselves. Then it becomes a negative spiral downward for your village.

If property owners are performing some minimal degree of upkeep and still paying their property taxes, the task is different: finding some tenants or purchasers. Maybe you can figure out how the community might cooperate to market itself to the larger cities along the East Coast where some people would be delighted to pay $150,000 for a house. Sometimes an injection of only five or ten new households into a rural-feeling village really breathes new life and hope into it.

Is your village suitable for vacation homes? Another way to ask the question is whether you have some scenic beauty to offer. If so, again a cooperative and smart marketing effort might find you some new owners who would be part-year residents and who would help local businesses stay afloat.

To help start a little momentum, beautify any vacant lots with flowers (same plants and colors on every lot), spruce up the look of any particularly well-traveled streets, and/or encourage all homeowners to plant the same flowers, paint their mailboxes the same color, or what have you. These things lift the spirits for very little money.

Your village may die, as many before it have, but if you want to revive it, these are the general areas in which you should concentrate your efforts.

In sum, our best advice for a village with many abandoned homes is to band together through whatever organizations and churches may be available, cooperate with the village and county governments, and come up with a strategy to market yourselves, leverage any assets including scenery and historic buildings, create interest in your village in any way that you can, and then obtain financial and technical assistance from higher levels of government.

Also keep reading on this website, of course, and have others who are concerned about this problem do the same.

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