June 30, 2017
By Robert KleinWhile the economic recovery continues to have positive repercussions for the commercial building market, vacant and unoccupied properties still dot urban landscapes. As long as these properties remain vacant, they present problems for building owners, facilities managers, insurers, and local government officials who see these properties as contributing to instability in the community. Clearboarding — the use of clear polycarbonate instead of plywood — is a better way to secure these vacant and unoccupied buildings.A study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found a specific correlation between increased crime and how long a property was vacant. HUD cited research from Philadelphia that shows that, “after a property becomes vacant, the rate of violent crime within 250 feet of the property is 15 percent higher than the rate in the area between 250 and 350 feet from the property. In addition, longer periods of vacancy have a greater effect on crime rates.”The study noted other problems caused by vacant and abandoned properties: “Vacant and abandoned properties have negative spillover effects that impact neighboring properties and, when concentrated, entire communities and even cities. The research links vacant and abandoned properties with reduced property values, increased crime, increased risk to public health and welfare, and increased costs for municipal governments.”There are other problems. “Abandoned properties contribute to a self-perpetuating cycle of blight: tenants and building owners will not rehabilitate the property when fear and crime exist, and the government cannot reduce fear and crime when the neighborhood is beset by abandoned properties,” a report by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing noted.For decades, plywood has been the standard material for boarding up vacant and unoccupied buildings. But plywood has become the ugly and stigmatizing symbol of community blight, fueled by the Great Recession, and has done more to contribute to the problem than to solve it.Plywood announces to everyone that a property is vacant and abandoned, extending an open invitation to vandals and squatters who are looking for their next target. Plywood boarding can be easily removed by intruders who often cause irreparable damage, leaving a “zombie property” with little or no value. These plywood-boarded properties can become hubs for crime, drug activity, and fires. They require constant attention from code enforcement to address violations, and police and fire first responder calls to the property, placing a strain on city and community resources and budgets.Damage caused by weather because plywood warps over time, and the cost for reboarding, add to the cost of plywood boarding.Polycarbonate clearboarding is a practical and attractive alternative to plywood boarding that building owners and facility managers can use to secure their vacant properties and protect their assets. A state-of-the-art technology, polycarbonate clearboarding is being used in communities across the country to secure unoccupied properties without exposing vacancy. Designed to look like traditional windows, the clear polycarbonate boarding prevents vacant and abandoned properties from becoming “zombies” and contributing to community blight.Clear polycarbonate looks like glass, so it doesn’t broadcast that a building is vacant and abandoned. It’s virtually unbreakable, protecting properties from intrusion by vandals and squatters, reducing the risk for first responders. And polycarbonate clearboarding keeps out the weather far better than plywood.While polycarbonate is approximately twice the cost of plywood for materials and installation, it is more effective at properly securing the property. The economic impact of boarding with polycarbonate clearboarding is much deeper that the initial boarding cost and is more cost-efficient over time.Plywood-boarded properties can result in economic loss, which includes not only the loss in the value of the property itself, but also losses borne by the neighbors surrounding the property and the broader community. These costs include loss of property value to neighboring homes and businesses, costs associated with an increase in crime and fire, and municipal government costs for fire and police patrol and code enforcement.Plywood was invented in the 1800s, and it was pretty high-tech in its day. Innovative polycarbonate technology is the 21st century solution for modern property management and healthier, more stable communities.Robert Klein is founder and chairman of Community Blight Solutions.