Writes the Kansas City Star’s editorial board:
Vacant, nuisance properties have become Kansas City’s latter-day plague, a kind of urban gangrene that can create a chronic downdraft in property values. In neighborhoods where the problem is severe, vacant houses draw rats, squatters, drug dealers, vandals and midnight dumpers.
Just how many of these “nuisance properties” are there?
Thousands of dilapidated properties are currently held by the city; estimates range from 4,000 to 12,000. Rotting, falling apart, and sitting idle, most were seized after the “owners” failed to pay rent to the government, or maintained the property as they saw fit, rather than follow a bureaucrat’s arbitrary plans.
Apparently kidnapping the “owners” hasn’t worked, because a few months ago KCTV5 reported that: “Kansas City, MO, police, along with the city, are cracking down and arresting homeowners who ignore repeated warnings to clean up.” Basically, if bureaucrats didn’t like your lawn they’d just kidnap you and hold you for ransom, the logical conclusion of such a policy.
The city government framed this in terms of fighting crime, namely drug use and prostitution, but if these two vices weren’t criminalized to begin with, there would be no such problem with abandoned homes. Michael Rozeff explained why this is true in a blog post on LRC regarding the city of Buffalo conducting SWAT raids on so-called “drug houses.”
So absent all of the problems created by prohibition, the only issue remaining is that dilapidated homes tend to reduce home values. This is another reason city governments regulate such items as where garbage cans may or may not be stored, what hours they are allowed to be on the curb, where and how RV campers are kept, and a whole host of issues related to aesthetics. But as Walter Block would argue, people don’t have a right to a nice view. This is where voluntary associations and neighborhood contracts can protect other property owners, but in no way should government become involved, which, as we see, knows only violence.
The city is now phasing out its Land Trust, the agency formerly in control of the properties. It was marked by “corruption and favoritism” and “strayed from the mission of improving city neighborhoods,” but city officials are hopeful that an even more powerful entity, the Land Bank, will solve this mess once and for all.
The supposed purpose of seizing these run-down properties was to preserve the neighborhoods’ aesthetics and maintain property values. But as has been clearly demonstrated, things have only deteriorated, and expanding the program will surely make things worse. Instead, city officials should publicly apologize to residents for aggravating the situation, and the remaining properties should be auctioned off, with proceeds going to restitution for the former owners.