Center for Housing and Community Engagement

The Center for Housing and Community Studies

Comprehensive and systematic research focused on the relationship among housing, community, and social issues

Housing Our Community Study

VacantOne problem with studying vacant, abandoned, and substandard properties is that many communities have no reliable way to keep track or assessing the conditions of these properties. It is hard to quantify the costs of such properties when there is no central mode of determining the scale and scope in a given area. This project involved the collection of primary data on all land parcels in in the City of Greensboro to determine the frequency of vacant, abandoned, and substandard properties in a neighborhood.

A remote visual inspection of more than 75,000 parcels was conducted using Loveland Technologies Site Control Software tailored to an external assessment survey developed by CHCS. This tool was constructed using the HUD Housing Assessment Instrument, National Center for Healthy Housing recommendations, and local code enforcement standards, as well as assessment tools from local community non-profit housing advocates. Research support staff, overseen by the Director and project coordinator, used this tool to conduct remote visual assessments that were then mapped and layered with additional data from the City of Greensboro, Guilford County, as well as state and federal sources.

Housing quality is an issue for Greensboro residents. Single-family homes in Greensboro are on average over 50 years old, while multi-family homes or apartments are about 35 years old. Waves of development over the years can be seen, with homes built in the 1950s or before concentrated in the city core and the most recent development (post-1988 in the outermost suburbs). Aging housing stock itself is not an issue, if kept up. However, the trend with aging rental housing is for owners not to reinvest in maintenance but to extract whatever rents they can while depreciating the property on their taxes and then speculating on the future resale value.

OwnerOccupiedwoodBadPaintWe have visually assessed more than 75,000 properties. Over a third (35.8%) of the properties surveyed had some sort of issue with the lot – grass or weeds over a foot high and needing mowing; shrubs obscuring the building and needing trimming; trees hanging over roof; inoperable vehicles on the lawn or drive; substantial trash or debris in the yard; building materials, tires, automotive parts, or appliances, in the yard; or dangerously low-hanging power lines. While some of these code enforcement issues are simply a nuisance, unsightly properties due impact property values of adjacent property and can lead to potential health and safety issues.

Looking at major structural conditions like roof, windows, foundations or as a composite statistic of all of these features together, then determining – relative to other properties what is the condition of this home. Our scale is 18 points with higher being better condition. The ‘average’ house in Greensboro for which we collected all of this data, is 16.39. The lowest score had poor windows, poor siding, poor foundation, poor roof, poor paint, had no gutters, and may be fire damaged. Properties with a score of 14 are a standard deviation below the mean ,  13% of properties are a standard deviation below average. Properties with a score of 12 were two and a half standard deviations below the mean, 4.2% of properties were in this category.

GSO_HousingIndex_BG_labeledStudies have shown that substandard housing is clearly related to increased likelihood of health concerns and mental health issues.
Specific health hazards of substandard housing including: frequent changes of residence (community instability), mold from excessive moisture, exposure to lead, exposure to allergens that may cause or worsen asthma, rodent and insect pests, pesticide residues, and indoor air pollution.
Depression and self-perception of health status are higher for those living in areas of high poverty.

Private investment market cannot take care of all the needs for affordable house in Greensboro. It takes public-private partnerships.
We need to continue proactively and affirmatively promoting fair, healthy, and affordable housing in Greensboro for all. We need more low-cost housing in high opportunity neighborhoods. The evidence from a history of building assisted housing in already poor neighborhoods shows that it does not work.We need mixed income development to be encouraged by policy makers and made real by developers. Yet, we need to be careful about gentrification.

 A presentation of the findings from this study is available at: http://tinyurl.com/GSOHousingOurCommunity

This project was funded by The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro