The epidemic of vacant properties in Louisville is growing. That’s one of the many facts cited in the latest annual Competitive City Report from the Greater Louisville Project.
According to the report, in some areas of the city, more than 15 percent of homes and business are vacant. The 2010 Census puts the average for Metro Louisville at 8.4 percent. But it’s hard to measure. As homes are abandoned, foreclosed, sold and destroyed, the count stays fluid.
What is clear is that neighborhoods in the West End have been hit the worst and the population of the suburbs has grown. But Metropolitan Housing Coalition director Cathy Hinko says those two figures aren’t necessarily related. It’s unlikely that a family would be in foreclosure, then move to a suburb.
“I think there’s a strong connection between vacant properties and families that are doubled up and the hollowing out of some of the areas the census tract is showing,” she says.
For decades, the average number of people in a household has been dropping. But that trend has slowed. Hinko points to this as evidence that people are leaving their homes and moving in with friends or family. And she says the houses they leave behind have to be cared for.
“As the economy improves and as wages improve, I think you will once again see people establish their own households,” says Hinko. “What we have to do in the meantime is be great about taking care of and having the vacant properties be reused.”
Mayor Greg Fischer is weighing his options for how to do this. But he has a few examples to follow.
“The Shawnee and Chickasaw neighborhoods and particularly the Park DuValle neighborhood, which underwent a total revitalization, that area has held its value, held its population,” says Greater Louisville Project director Carolyn Gatz. “It proves that with the right kind of reinvestment, inner-city areas can come back and can flourish as healthy neighborhoods.”
Overall, Louisville’s population grew about seven percent over the last decade. But the number of jobs in the city has dropped. As a remedy, the report suggests Metro Government look toward several industries, including manufacturing.
Kentuckiana Works director Michael Gritton says Louisville should bid for the jobs that are ancillary to manufacturing. For instance, Ford is increasing its production in Louisville, so the city should try to lure companies that make things like engine parts, floor mats and seat covers.
“These companies are sophisticated enough that they can easily supply auto companies that are in Indiana, Tennessee. We are in that automotive corridor of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, and they’re willing to supply to all those companies if they get a chance to do it,” says Gritton.
Gritton says economic success can be spurred by nurturing small companies that grow into larger ones.