Rescuing Vacant Homes

Redeveloping Pivotal Properties
Vacant and deteriorated houses are a menace to residential neighborhoods. They undermine stability and quality of life. HANDS’ most important goal is to rid vulnerable neighborhoods of this problem.

Everyone knows that vacant properties contribute to the decline of urban neighborhoods, but successfully combating that neighborhood cancer has eluded most community developers. In 1994, when one of every ten houses in Orange was vacant and deteriorated, HANDS declared its mission “to rid the neighborhoods of Orange of problem properties and make them good places to raise a family”.
 
In Orange, HANDS took a systemic approach to the problem by working with City Hall and community groups to strengthen the community’s response. HANDS staff became expert at clearing title to the hard core eyesores that sat vacant for years, acquiring 66 houses and rehabilitating them for sale to first time homebuyers. HANDS worked with other community developers to rewrite state law and give stronger powers to local government to deal with troubled properties. State housing program regulations were changed to provide subsidy for affordable homeownership rehabilitation.
 
The 14 year campaign paid off and Orange neighborhoods had greatly improved and were nearly rid of vacant problem properties – and then the foreclosure crisis hit in 2008. Since then, HANDS and City Hall have redoubled efforts as the number of foreclosed and vacant properties has increased.
 
In an initiative called Operation Neighborhood Recovery, HANDS bought a large group of defaulted mortgages on vacant, deteriorated houses in and around Orange. The properties have been maintained, the title to most of them cleared and the properties rehabilitated and occupied. Working with the DC based Center for Community Progress, City Hall and HANDS are working together on a comprehensive campaign to combat the rising number of vacant homes.
 
As a demonstration project, Operation Neighborhood Recovery led to the creation of a separate entity called the Community Asset Preservation Corporation (CAPC) that owns the mission of purchasing defaulted mortgages through bulk purchase throughout New Jersey and conveying the properties to responsible redevelopers who will quickly return them to productive use.