Toledo, Ohio is on track to demolish a record number of abandoned houses this year. By the time 2011 is done, Toledo city officials expect to have torn down more than 400 blighted residential structures.
What I find interesting is not that Toledo is having a problem with abandoned houses — Toledo, like many Midwestern cities, has been hard hit by our ongoing economic woes and home foreclosures — but that the demolition effort is being funded in significant part by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is contributing more than $1 million toward the total cost. Although the story linked above doesn’t identify the specific source of the federal funds, a look at the HUD website suggests that the funds are part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program that began in 2008. In 2010, Congress and President Obama allocated an additional $1 billion for that program, which makes grants to states and local governments to support, among other things, demolition activities.
I’m sympathetic to the problems that struggling cities like Toledo are confronting, but I think it is ludicrous that the federal government — using borrowed money, of course — is making grants to cities to deal with neighborhood issues like abandoned housing. We simply don’t have the money, at the federal level, to become involved in every local issue that needs attention. If Toledo concludes that abandoned houses are eyesores or crime magnets that need to be destroyed, Toledo should figure out how to prioritize and pay for that activity itself.