Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) today introduced the Revitalize America Act, his first bill as a Member of Congress, which seeks to help reinvigorate and reinvest in America's older industrial cities -- including Flint, Saginaw and Detroit -- by freeing up $1.9 billion in federal aid to help remove blight and repurpose abandoned properties to productive use.
The bill, which has bipartisan support and is cosponsored by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), would give 18 states and the District of Columbia greater flexibility to spend up to 25 percent of previously allocated money under the "Hardest Hit" program to demolish and repurpose vacant units. Congressman Kildee's bill, if passed, would free up funding for states to use on removing blight in communities, including $124 million for Michigan communities.
"The Revitalize America Act will help reinvest in our nation's cities and towns by making sure they have the resources necessary to help remove and repurpose abandoned homes and commercial properties," Congressman Kildee said. "Over the past half century, cities like Flint and Detroit have lost population and been left with an oversupply of vacant and abandoned housing, which drives down property values for all homeowners in the region. Removing blight from our communities will help to increase property values for homeowners and make our neighborhoods safer by reducing crime and decreasing the number of arsons."
The bill does not spend any new money or add to the national deficit; rather it repurposes already allocated money to the states. Under the original "Hardest Hit" program, Michigan received nearly $500 million, yet money has not been authorized to be spent on removing blight and demolishing abandoned houses.
According to the Brookings Institution, from 2000 to 2010, the total number of vacant housing units in the U.S. grew by over 4.5 million, an increase of 44 percent. This includes an estimated 40,000 vacant units in Detroit and 5,800 in Flint. According to a two-year study by the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University, $3.5 million of demolition activity in Flint produced $112 million in improved surrounding property values.
"Dilapidated, abandoned housing is one of the most significant drivers of vacancy, abandonment and foreclosure in neighborhoods and communities, including my hometown of Flint," Congressman Kildee said.
There are various negative impacts of vacant and abandoned properties that undermine the strength and quality of life of neighborhoods and communities across the U.S. Many of these vacant buildings and homes are health and safety hazards to the community. Additionally, abandoned houses and commercial buildings also diminish adjacent property values, contributing to a loss for both property owners as well as local municipalities.
"Abandoned homes and structures hurt communities and drive down property values. Many of these buildings are uninhabitable and won't be purchased by prospective buyers. Allowing states to use money for demolition, that's already been allocated to them, makes sense for communities and the American taxpayer," said Congressman Turner.
Congressman Kildee has an extensive background in housing policy and land use issues. In 2002, as Genesee County Treasurer, he founded the Genesee Land Bank -- Michigan's first land bank -- and served as its CEO from 2002 until 2009. The Land Bank, which continues to help stabilize neighborhoods and redevelop abandon properties in Michigan, is responsible for over $100 million in redevelopment in Flint. Congressman Kildee's successful land bank model has help to inspire nearly 100 other communities to start similar models to help create opportunity and foster development, including in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Syracuse, N.Y., and Fulton County, Ga.
Immediately prior to being elected a member of Congress, Congressman Kildee co-founded and served as the president of The Center for Community Progress, a national non-profit organization dedicated to helping improve local and state economies through improving the vitality of neighborhoods and communities across the U.S.