JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

City leaders met Monday to try to come up with a solution to turn vacant properties into a city asset.

There are 21,988 vacant homes in Jacksonville, including houses, businesses, condominiums and townhomes.

Councilman Bill Gulliford called the meeting of housing experts and community leaders to discuss what he sees as a major problem.

"So I think what you saw is a community recognizing we have a significant issue with that and a significant opportunity," Gulliford said. "We could turn this doggone thing around and make it beneficial to the community as a whole and individual."

Leaders discussed ideas such as using community groups to help find owners, or using the properties for nonprofit work. Others attended looking for answers to the current problems in their neighborhoods.

"A lot of neighborhood issues, with children ransacking homes," resident Mike Anania said. "There's mold, water coming out of the house. It's a health issue. Their stuff inside the house and outside the property -- just a terrible situation that we have to live with."

One suggestion made was to create a group called Jax Hope to look at the issues and come up with a plan. Leaders admit it's going to take years to solve the issue.

"It's very difficult. You have always moving pieces and trying to organize those pieces with a consistent plan," said Eric Selk, executive director of Hope Now. "But for people in neighborhoods, it's something that needs to happen right away."

Gulliford said he plans to meet again in a couple weeks to try to get a committee together to come up with ideas.