Addressing Rural Blight: Lessons from West Virginia and WV LEAP
24:3 Journal of Affordable Housing and Community, 2016, Forthcoming
34 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2016 Last revised: 31 Aug 2016
Date Written: February 23, 2016
When we think of “blight,” we tend to think of Baltimore, Detroit, or any number of Rustbelt cities and urban centers with comparable issues. But blight affects rural areas as well, and surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the problem of rural blight. This Article argues that a framework for addressing rural blight should be built from the ground up, and that designing such a framework tailored specifically to rural needs will be more effective than hoping that urban tools turn out to be adequate in rural areas. This analysis draws upon the fields of rural development and sociology, as well as the West Virginia Legal Education to Address Abandoned and Neglected Properties program (WV LEAP) at West Virginia University College of Law’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, a year-long initiative designed to equip communities in the largely rural state of West Virginia to better handle neglected properties. In Part I, the Article discusses common characteristics of rural communities that may hamper their capacity to address blight, and analyzes why some legal tools typically used in an urban context may be inappropriate or unrealistic in rural contexts. Part II provides background on the WV LEAP program and discusses what lessons the program revealed as to how rural communities in West Virginia are frequently impeded in efforts to tackle blight, and how some of those communities manage to overcome those impediments effectively. Part III recommends eight elements as components of a comprehensive rural blight-redemption strategy.
Keywords: Sustainable Development, Land Use, Neglected Properties, Blight, Local Government, Rural Development
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