Where Cities Are Practically Giving Away Abandoned Homes

Andrea Salcedo was displaced to Long Island by Hurricane Sandy, but prefers to live in Binghamton, N.Y., near her family. Salcedo's dream of getting a home there came closer to a reality when she was selected as one of eight winners in a city redevelopment project. The "One Dollar Healthy Homes" initiative sold vacant and abandoned homes or lots for $1 per parcel to the people with the best plan for the seriously blighted property that had been acquired by the city through foreclosure.

Salcedo and the other winners will each receive $100,000 in Restore NY funding, the state grant that helps residents turn eyesores into quality housing. Construction on the homes of each winner is expected to begin this month.

Eager Street after rehabbing
Eager Street after rehabbing

Though she's past retirement age, Salcedo has been able to commit $46,000 in private financing to aid in reconstructing the single-family home as her primary residence. But to qualify, each entrant first had to put up at least $25,000 of his or her own funds and agree to complete the project within 12 months.

"The One Dollar Healthy Home initiative is just another creative way to attract and drive private investment in our neighborhoods," said Mayor Matt Ryan in a press release.

For one local woman contractor who entered and won, this is going to be her first home. Similarly, Craig Brigham III, who works for his family's general contracting firm, bought a $1 vacant lot to build a new, single-family residence for his primary residence. He has committed $48,725 in private financing for this new home construction.

Philadelphia also offers homeowners with vacant lots adjacent to their properties the opportunity to purchase the lots for $1 if the property is valued at less than $15,000 and is less than 3,000 square feet. However, transaction fees might bring the total purchase cost closer to $1,000.

Indianapolis also just passed a buy-for-a-dollar housing program to get occupants into vacant properties that did not sell at a tax sale. Applicants have to live adjacent to the abandoned property, qualify for an FHA renovation loan, and agree to make the property an extension of their home for at least three years. Plans still need to be put in place in order for the program to take effect.

Baltimore's new Vacants to Value initiative encourages the demolition or renovation and sale of vacant properties by offering deferred loans to private parties and businesses. It's currently dangling $10,000 in down payments and closing costs to each of the first 50 buyers of Vacants to Value Houses. Its goal is to address 3,000 vacant residential buildings in the city by rehabilitating half of them in the next three years. (See the accompanying photos, as well as before-and-after photos in gallery below.)

The Census Bureau says that there are about 15 million vacant housing units in the nation, an increase of 43.8 percent since 2000 when the number of vacant housing units totaled 10.4 million. Those 15 million units in 2010 represented 11.4 percent of the total housing units in the nation.

The increase in the number of these programs might stem from a similar initiative at the federal level -- along with an infusion of federal funds. For instance, Dollar Homes is a project by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that helps local governments foster housing opportunities for low-to-moderate-income families and address specific community needs by offering them the opportunity to purchase qualified HUD-owned homes for $1 each.

Dollar Homes are single-family homes that are acquired by the Federal Housing Administration (which is part of HUD) as a result of foreclosure actions. Single-family properties are made available to cities through the program whenever the FHA is unable to sell the homes for six months.

Local governments can partner with local nonprofit homeownership organizations or tap into existing local programs to resell the homes to low- and moderate-income residents of the community.

Corner of Dallas and Biddle after rehabbing
Corner of Dallas and Biddle after rehabbing

Illinois has had success with a similar program -- called "Building Blocks" -- that was offered mostly in west suburban Chicago and that's scheduled to include other areas. The year-old program gives low-to-moderate income homebuyers up to $10,000 toward down payments and closing costs on purchases of vacant homes. The maximum annual household income must be $72,100 or less. Plans call for the program to expand to such towns as Champaign, in the central part of the state and home to the University of Illinois.

More about abandoned homes:
Where $1 Buys an Abandoned Home
U.S. Cities With the Most Abandoned Homes
Newest Squatters in Empty Homes: Rats and Coyotes

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