Turn foreclosed property into urban garden?

Milwaukee is proposing to use foreclosed homes and vacant lots to increase residents' access to fresh food by creating gardens.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Sep 24, 2012 2:09PM

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© Red Sky/Getty ImagesMilwaukee has a new idea to combat foreclosures while improving its residents' diets: Encourage urban homesteads.


The city has entered its proposal into a competition, Bloomberg Philanthropies' The Mayors Challenge, which will award $5 million to one city and $1 million each to four others for projects that offer bold solutions for problems facing many cities. (Editor's note: Since the original publish date, Milwaukee has been named a finalist for the prize.)


Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wanted his city's submission to include food security and foreclosures, two issues that are not usually tackled together.


"Ours is a big idea — a vision for changing how cities approach foreclosed properties while simultaneously offering a comprehensive plan to improve diet for those facing nutritional shortcomings and poor health," Barrett wrote in an opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

This is how the program would work:


The Post-Industrial Urban Homestead Act, proposed by Gretchen Mead of the city's Victory Gardens Initiative, calls for people who are unemployed or who are facing foreclosure to be given access to foreclosed homes and vacant lots, plus the resources they need to grow their own food there, as well as food for others. After successfully maintaining their homesteads for five years, while encouraging others to do the same, they would earn the right to keep the property.

"During the Victory Garden Movement of WWII, citizens using their own effort, knowledge and urban land grew 40% of our city’s produce. Communities rallied together to grow, preserve and share fresh fruits and vegetables," Meade wrote in her proposal. "We are again in time of hardship. Inaccessibility of high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, economic insecurity, natural resource depletion and deep apathy related to the outsourcing of community wealth leave the people of Milwaukee subject to multi-generational nutritional starvation and the inability to keep and maintain our beautiful, historic neighborhoods."

The foreclosed properties would be open not only to people who wanted to live on them, but to entrepreneurs who wanted to create community gardens, kitchens or cafes, teach cooking classes, host potlucks or build a place for community picnics, Barrett wrote in his op-ed. Milwaukee has about 600 vacant, foreclosed homes and about 3,000 vacant lots.


What do you think about Milwaukee's urban-homesteading proposal? Would it be a good move in older cities with an excess of vacant, foreclosed properties?


Dec 15, 2012 11:45AM

   This is a most brilliant idea for dealing with abandoned properties in a city! It is a win-win-win,etc.. If the structures are in such bad shape as they are not salvageable for living in, the city will be removing a structure that would be a target for vandalism or drug use.. Usable materials from the old structure could be recycled or sold for profit by the city, thus reducing loads to the local landfill. Think in terms of metal beams, large dimension wooden beams, brick, stone, etc. There are lots of businesses looking for such materials. The gardens, as mentioned, would provide much needed fresh food in areas that most likely would be food deserts, not havings grocery stores with healthy food close by. The gardens would provide more oxygen generation/carbon absorption to improve air quality and  at the same time potentially reduce water pollution from rotting structures. These new gardens could put students/adults to work planting, weeding and harvesting the crops and if signed up with Ameri-corps ( with the federal government ) these individuals could earn up to $ 9,500 for college funds or to pay back college loans. The lots could become mini-parks or neighborhood gathering places to build a strong community. The potential is limitless.

      This is an idea I have long thought about and have generated ideas for. Hopefully my comments will be of use to the city. I walk my talk too, as I have transformed an old back yard into a massive garden with terraces, steps and patios using recycled blocks and hard physical labor. Let us do something positive and beautiful with our aging cities!


Oct 8, 2012 3:59PM
this article is comparing the great generation of ww2 to inner city minorities of today who have basically destroyed milwaukee, wisconsin? oh yeah..they'll grow their own food ..sure right....welfare  after johnson's 1965 great society basicaly doomed all of our once great inner cities with welfare mooching, drug dealing,****ing,muderous,inner city minorities.lbj..the worst president in U.S. history.what a slap in the face for the greatest generation.
Oct 8, 2012 12:56PM
Why not include people who have jobs, but can't afford to buy a house? Where is the help for the middle class?
Oct 8, 2012 12:19PM
why not charge rent and move some people in those houses?  geeezz, garden indeed!! people living on the street and you're gonna make it a garden
Oct 8, 2012 8:07AM
 You are talking about taking private land (a foreclosed property is owned by someone, a bank or a person who made the loan to the foreclosed homeowner) and giving it to someone else. This only works if the bank or other person who now owns the foreclosed property is willing to give it away. Most property owners don't want to give their property away, they want to sell it to minimize their loss.  It might work with gov't owned properties if  the gov't is willing to give it away. And what of the neighboring homeowners who take care of their property? What will happen to their property values if the property next door is now a large garden and houses squatters? This is a lame idea.
Oct 8, 2012 6:53AM
Yes, in Chicago, some of the vacant lots are large enough to maintain a cornfield.  A fenced in garden would improve the appearance of the area, provide an incentive for homeownership, as well as provide affordable needed nutrition in neighborhoods.
Oct 8, 2012 6:42AM
It's practical, workable and economical...and beautiful! It will restore homeowners and community pride on many levels. That pride will quickly turn to love and the love will free the passion to keep it all on-going. Personally, I think it's brilliant.
Oct 8, 2012 2:29AM
It works best if it is a fenced in our area, because any open areas in our neighborhood end up being used as dog parks/runs, and they use the areas to do their business.
Oct 8, 2012 2:24AM
Yes!!!  We have two rentals next to us, and I spoke to the owners (and tenants) about cleaning up the yards and planting gardens.  They were all for the idea, and the tenants are happy that they don't have to take care of the yards.  We harvested watermelons and tomatoes this year, and are planning more for next year.
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