Columns, News

Litter has a pretty hefty price tag

Litter is taking money out of your pocket and lighting it on fire.

You, personally, are having money taken out of your pocket by people you’ve never met and circumstances that you cannot control at a point in time that could be years from now.

Please let that wash over you for a second: Litter is costing you money you don’t even have yet.

In 2009, Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit organization focused on community development through litter prevention and reduction and recycling, published the results of research it conducted in 2008 and 2009.

One thing in particular stood out to me from the executive summary of that research.

The presence of litter decreases property values.

Forty percent of surveyed homeowners believe litter can reduce home values by up to 24 percent. Fifty-five percent of realtors believe the presence of litter can reduce property values by about 9 percent. Sixty percent of the property appraisers surveyed said they would reduce a home’s value if it was littered.

The information reported is sobering. The information that is absent is terrifying.

The report doesn’t assign a value to “littered.” It is subjective. But that subjectivity will be measured in dollars.

It isn’t just important that a prospective property buyer may value your property less because they believe it’s littered; it is important to understand the person representing you to the buyer may believe that your property is worth less because they view your property as littered.

It doesn’t stop at buying and selling. Somewhere down the line, you may need to borrow money against the equity in your property. Guess what? If the person who assesses the current value of your property believes it to be littered, your property can be assessed a lower value. You will therefore have less equity, and you will have less money available to you.

That can cause some ripples.

Warrensburg’s mayor, Bryan Jacobs, has more insight into this aspect of the issue of littering than most: He is the owner of the Re/Max United office in Warrensburg. A large part of his career deals with the value of properties.

“I agree that those numbers are 100 percent correct,” he said, referring to the KAB statistics.

He told me of a time when he was showing a house outside of the Warrensburg city limits and he intentionally took the long way so they would bypass an area that had several issues, including litter.

“Here is what happens when you are out showing a house,” he said. “You pull into a neighborhood and there is litter and lack of maintenance in the area. People automatically discount the area or don’t want to see it because they don’t like the neighborhood.”

He also compared two areas within the city limits. Both have groups of townhouses with similar floor plans, but on the north side of town, he estimates he can get $110,000 per unit. On the south side of town, he estimates that he can sell each unit for $75,000.

That is a difference of $35,000.

Litter is not the only factor affecting the price of homes in these two areas. For example, he said the units on the north side of town are newer and there is a homeowner’s association, which helps guarantee a certain level of maintenance of the area (which can also include litter, so the lines are blurred a little).

However, while litter isn’t the only factor, it is a factor.

If you happen to own one of the units in the neighborhood on the south side of town and you’re already down $35,000, it can make a big difference.

Warrensburg City Manager Harold Stewart also agrees with the numbers in the KAB study.

“The presence of trash and litter is the first indicator of an issue,” he said.

A city’s disregard for litter tends to develop into disregard for maintenance, indicating a failure in leadership or the overall decay of the area.

Stewart and Jacobs said Warrensburg is a long way from that type of disrepair. As evidence, they pointed to the Dollar Tree breaking ground on a 1.2 million square foot, $110 million distribution center on highway 13, expected to create 375 jobs in and around Warrensburg.

That kind of investment is not made casually. Ever.

It is not, however, an indication that there isn’t a problem with litter.

Let’s look at the city of Philadelphia as an example.

According to the Logistics & Distribution in Philadelphia page, “more than 645 international companies from 37 countries choose to call the Philadelphia region home.”

A lot of companies decided to move to Philadelphia. It would not pass as litter-free to Helen Keller.

Roxanne Patel Shepelavy called the city’s litter problem “horrendous” in an article for the Philadelphia Citizen.

Keep in mind, too, that part of Warrensburg’s problem is the transient nature of the population. There are many factors: the university, U.S. Highway 50, the railroad, and Whiteman Air Force Base.

There are also people from the area’s smaller communities who come to Warrensburg for things they don’t have at home. Like, perhaps, one of those 375 jobs.

The jobs created by the Dollar Tree distribution center will not strictly be filled by current citizens of Warrensburg. We’ll get more people here, which is good – very good – when you factor in the increase in sales tax that will be collected by area businesses when those people start buying things on their way to and from work; Stewart said most of Warrensburg’s revenue comes from sales tax. Obviously, collecting more is better.

But as it pertains to litter? More people will create more trash. We, the citizens of Warrensburg, need to clean up the mess we’ve already made, before it gets bigger.

Jacobs said that he doesn’t think Warrensburg has a litter problem.

“I think we have some areas that we’d like to clean up, but I don’t think we have a problem,” he said.

But what if you’re living in one of those areas that we’d like to clean up, with a home that is worth $35,000 less than a similar home in a different area?

I’d like to think that is considered something of a problem.


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