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UNT Insider | August 2013 issue | Researchers create index to identify blight in Dallas

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Researchers create index to identify blight in Dallas

From a UNT News Service press release

Composite blight index map for Dallas

Composite Blight index map for Dallas (click to enlarge)

In a study commissioned by Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, UNT researchers have identified the most blighted areas of Dallas using a newly created measurement tool that could help communities around the nation understand the cost of blight and build community support to tackle the issue.

"Blight is a drain on city resources and budget dollars, not to mention those same structures serve as havens for drugs and other criminal activity," says Bill Hall, CEO of Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity. "We are hoping to use the information from this study to make people aware of the magnitude of the blight problem and as a conversation starter about what we can collectively do to improve these conditions."

He added that the study reveals problems that need to be addressed.

"The study will show that there are some neighborhoods in Dallas that simply cannot move forward and improve until the run-down, burned out, grown-over buildings are removed," Hall says.

To identify blighted areas, researchers created a "composite blight index" by superimposing physical characteristics over socioeconomic characteristics using secondary data available from the U.S. Census, the Dallas County Appraisal District, the city of Dallas and other public agencies. The index can be updated over time to monitor changes in blight in Dallas -- and also can be used in other cities that want to better understand and reduce blight.

Simon Andrew, Praveen Maghelal, Sudha Arlikatti and Hee Soun Jang conducted the research. They are all faculty members in the Department of Public Administration within UNT's College of Public Affairs and Community Service. U.S. News and World Report ranks UNT's city management/urban policy master's program eighth in the nation and first and Texas.

"Numerous cities across the country have been plagued by blight and made concerted efforts to adopt blight reduction strategies," Arlikatti says. "But there is no consensus among planning scholars and policymakers on what constitutes blight and how it must be measured. Some have looked at just the physical aspects -- 'the broken window syndrome,' dilapidated buildings, weeds, etc. -- while some have looked at the social aspects such as quality of life, despair, crime and disease. Guided by the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity's definition of blight, in our newly created composite blight index, we have brought both the physical and social characteristics together to create a clearer picture that can help policymakers make targeted decisions to reduce blight in Dallas."

Highlights of the research are below.

  • The researchers created a composite blight index for Dallas' 350 census tracts and categorized them. Of those 350, 118 are low-blight areas, 184 are moderate-blight areas and 48 are high-blight areas. The high-blight areas only represent 16 percent of the area within the city, but account for much of the burden created by blight.
  • The median property value for homes in high-blight areas is $79,600, compared to $236,050 in low-blight areas.
  • Properties that are delinquent on property taxes are mainly found in the blighted and moderately blighted areas. About 41 percent of the delinquent properties were in the high-blight census tracts; 49 percent were in the moderate-blight census tracts. Only about 10 percent of the delinquent properties were in the low-blight areas.
  • Fifty-five percent of the non-tax liens were filed in the high-blight census tracts.
  • In 2011, four of every 10 properties that reported fire incidents in blight areas also were delinquent in paying their property taxes.
  • Between 2007 and 2011, the city demolished 1,596 residential and commercial properties. Of these, the city spent an estimated $1.6 million to demolish 410 residential properties. Almost half of that cost (47 percent) was attributable to the high-blight census tracts.
  • The city often performs functions (cleaning or mowing property, securing vacant buildings, demolishing dilapidated structures, etc.) that should be done by the property owner in response to code violations, researchers found. When the city performs one of those functions, it bills the property owner and then files a lien for each unpaid bill. From 2010 to 2012, the city filed $10.2 million in non-tax liens. On average, 86 percent of those liens are unpaid, totaling $8.79 million in unpaid liens for those three years alone.
  • More than 2,000 properties had non-tax liens filed in each of the three years (2010 through 2012) for which data was available. These properties should be a high priority for blight reduction efforts, researchers found.

Ellen Rossetti with UNT News Service can be reached at


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August 2013

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