The District of Columbia Needs a Program To Identify Vacant Houses and Get Them Back on the Market

GGD-78-35: Published: Feb 22, 1978. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 1978.

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Vacant houses represent a serious problem in the midst of a housing shortage in the District of Columbia. Although the District has been talking about vacant housing for a long time, it has done little to return such housing to the real estate market. The principal reasons are that the District had neither: complete and accurate data on the number, location, and physical condition of vacant houses; a system to develop such information; nor a specific program to return such vacant houses to use.

A program to deal with vacant housing in the District must establish a vacant house inventory system to ascertain, on a continuing basis, the number, location, and condition of such housing. The Department of Environmental Services (DES) can identify vacant houses through its water meter records and meter reading staff. There is no limit on how long a house can remain vacant and off the market, and the District can take no action against the owner of a vacant house as long as the owner pays property taxes and complies with housing ordinances. Returning vacant houses to use is a complex and difficult problem to resolve. The District is pursuing several approaches, including providing lists of vacant housing to prospective buyers, using Community Development Block Grant funds to rehabilitate vacant houses, and selling tax delinquent property to encourage home ownership.

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