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Let's Knock Down 5 Million Crappy Houses

August 24, 2009
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Last month, three single-family homes I pass while driving to work disappeared.

Poof.

They were there on my drive into work. But on the way home, only a “demolished by” sign remained.

It was impressive. All three homes were old, battered and probably unsalable in the current market. It was good so see them go.

The disappearance of these abandoned abodes got me to thinking. Removing crappy homes offers several benefits beyond the obvious.

Obvious benefits include increasing neighborhood beautification, safety and the value of remaining homes.

Not-so-obvious benefits include reducing low-grade local housing stock, saving wasted energy and creating space for newly built homes.

With so many foreclosures stagnating on the market--and some in horrible shape with little upkeep--mortgage holders could stop the bleeding and simultaneously reduce housing competition by demolishing their worst properties.

By demolishing vacant houses, mortgage holders would save on the cost of utilities, maintenance, taxes, marketing and other carrying costs.

While these are great reasons, I’m even more buoyed by the idea of reducing our nation’s housing stock. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 127,901,934 housing units as of 2007. If we demo just 4% of them, we would reduce our current housing stock by 5 million units.

And let’s face it. There is a legion of poorly built or horribly maintained houses littering our landscape. Tearing them down would be prudent in both the short and long term.

In addition, as we eliminate a few million dwellings, we limit the number of substandard options for people to buy and rent. That would increase demand for remaining properties.

Before long, our massive backlog of empty homes would shrink, leading to demand for new homes and remodeled properties. That would generate construction jobs and kick-start our economy at a time when we really need to see improvement.

But here’s one more opportunity that would benefit the construction field. Instead of simply demolishing these “blower-uppers,” let’s deconstruct them. We can create even more jobs for construction pros by systematically dismantling the homes, salvaging the good wood, electrical systems, piping and other products that still have value.

So here is a challenge for mortgage holders and local municipalities (not our federal government, please): catch the vision and build support for deconstruction of the worst houses in your portfolios or communities.

What’s not to like about eliminating eyesores, creating open spaces for new homes/gardens, improving neighborhood safety, recycling building materials, and creating jobs?

Deconstructing 5 million crappy houses will take vision, willpower and execution. But the payoff would be well worth it.
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5 million crappy houses

RD
August 24, 2009
Good ideas here, Tim. The 'new normal' will make room for initiatives such as this... if only we are bold enough to launch. Also, I am with you on keeping it local!

5 million crappy houses

Jeff Miller
August 24, 2009
While I agree that many substandard dwellings exist, just demolishing them and filling more landfills is not the solution. We should harvest these buildings by deconstructing them in an effort to recycle the materials where possible and to provide employment and training opportunities. Some of the older structures actually have many valuable materials within, including old growth lumber, copper and other metals, asphalt shingles, etc. Additionally the ebst way to learn to build is to take a older building apart. Recently I lead a project where we deconstructed an older home (ca. 1930)that was not fixable, it had asbestos siding, which was removed before deconstruction began and it yielded more $ than it cost to deconstruct and we harvested very valuable chestnut subfloor. The $ enabled the new house to be provided at a reduced cost to a deserving family because the income produced was used to buy materials and + 10 tons of waste was diverted from the waste stream.

Deconstruction

Tim Fausch
August 24, 2009
Jeff: Thanks for sharing your experience. I almost used the word Deconstruction in the blog Headline, but I wanted to save that point for the conclusion. I've only seen one deconstruction personally and was surprised by the value of the contents. The home was quite old and in disrepair, but it had a lot of great wood. Imagine the job creation if we deconstructed every house instead of demolished them!

5 million crappy houses

Eric Rogers
August 27, 2009
Mr. Fausch, While I agree with your ideas on deconstruction of those homes beyond repair, the assumption that newer more energy efficent homes will automatically be built in their place is a bit too optomistic. Take a look at most of the new houses built in the last 5-7 year boom and I believe you will find most fail in correct insulation methods such as vapor retarder installation, designed with higher ceilings through-out with windows on all sides for natural ventialtion (i.e. reduced cooling energy), mature trees that provide shading (another cooling energy reduction), etc. Many of the homes built pre-1940 were built by craftmen that took pride in their work and added character that many homes today surely lack.

demo

Beth
September 1, 2009
I totally agree...demo them but recycle the materials that can be used even if just for "fill". In addition: Let's get all the abandoned trailers and old empty warehouses out of here too.

Brown Home

Clyde Fleming
September 3, 2009
Its in Burke County N.C.

crappy houses

KP
September 9, 2009
Hey Tim...who will pay for the demo of all these "crappy" houses? The same people who paid for the Cash for Clunkers program? The First Time Home Buyers program? The same people who bailed out the loan companies? Was that the government? Or was it taxpayers. So your big idea is to come up with one more program the taxpayers can foot the bill for. HEY...how about if you

Mortgage holders should pay for knock downs

Tim Fausch
September 9, 2009
KP: Personally, I'm not a fan of government bailouts, even though the auto funding has saved (at least temporarily) a lot of jobs here in Detroit. I did mention the participation of local government. My thinking is they usually add red tape to the demo or deconstruction process. Ideally, they would help mortgage holders by removing such obstacles. Mortgage holders (banks, etc.) would pay for the demos. I agree. No more taxpayer funded bailouts.

crappy homes

KP
September 9, 2009
Tim - There is no right answer. It is political. My great uncle once told me "never talk politics or religion". He was a quite guy. So participation of local government is the answer? Where does "local" government get their money from? And auto funding has "saved jobs"? Even tomporaily? How about creating new jobs? I see car lots that emptied their stock on the lot but I have not seen them refill that stock. It saved jobes? What was traded in...crap vehicles that were being driven by people that can't afford to buy another one so now they are in debt again...or actual big SUV gas guzzlers? But your point is to remove old homes. Demo the old homes...of course many times that can be the only home someone starting out can actually afford...but you want to get rid of these older homes (at the taxpayer expense) to put up new homes (that will cost more and create a bigger debt for first time homebuyers). You say there are 127,901,934 housing units as of 2007 and we should demo 4% of them. Are 4% of these units in the condition to demo? Maybe the government should simply pass a law that stops granting permits or building on sites that currently do not have an established structure on them. That way contractors and developors would be forced to buy up old properties and re-work them into new dwellings. We would save undeveloped land and then the government would not have to bail out the construction industry. Do you think that would fly. No new construction on previouly undeveloped lands...I don't know...maybe it isn't a bad idea.

Knocking down crappy houses

Tim Fausch
September 10, 2009
KP: Just to reiterate, those holding the mortgages would pay for any demo or deconstruction, not taxpayers. Are there 5 million houses bad enough to knock down? Maybe not. But there are countless abandonded or foreclosed houses that are good candidates. Let's start there.

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