CLEVELAND, Ohio — At the current pace and without new funding sources, it would take more than 22 years and $4.5 billion to clear the vacant houses that must be razed in Cleveland, according to a City Council report released this week.
The price tag includes the cost of keeping the properties boarded up, mowed and free from vandalism while they await demolition.
City Councilman Tony Brancatelli presented the new calculations — defining the long-term consequences of delaying demolition — at the Interagency Meeting on Residential Property Vacancy, Abandonment and Demolition in Washington D.C. on Monday.
The event drew representatives of Midwestern cities, the U.S. Treasury and high-ranking officials in the Department of Housing and Urban Development among others to discuss using demolition to improve property values and stabilize neighborhoods, Brancatelli said in an interview Tuesday.
Although a $1.1 million initiative is underway in Cleveland to inspect, condemn and set thousands of vacant houses on the path toward demolition, those properties will remain in line for decades if the federal government does not help fund the city’s demolition goals, Brancatelli said.
Federal legislation was introduced this year that would offer cities $4 billion in bonds to pay for such projects. The new report on Cleveland’s vacant housing glut, which was prepared by consulting firm Gaylord LLC, will help the city make its case if those funds become available, Brancatelli said.
The report’s $4.5 billion projection is based on the city’s estimate that sustaining a vacant house costs an average of $75 a day. That amounts to about $27,000 a year and $540,000 over two decades per house. That figure does not take into account the additional costs to the community — the increase in violent crime, loss of population and tax revenue, drops in home sales and overall business disinvestment — that accompany blight.
The city estimates that 8,500 houses are ready to be razed. In five years, that number will swell to about 13,500. And the report presumes that about 100 more houses will join that catalogue each year afterward.
Wiping out the entire vacant housing inventory right now would cost $85 million, the report states. But at $10,000 per demolition, the city’s budget can handle only 600 a year.
And the process of hunting down property owners, inspecting and condemning structures can be time-consuming and complicated, the city’s Assistant Director of Building and Housing Ronald O’Leary told council members at a Community and Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday.
Since May, a team of housing inspectors and attorneys working for Mayor Frank Jackson’s Emergency Vacant Property Inspection Initiative has tackled 4,680 vacant homes — 78 percent of its target for the year, O’Leary said.
Of those, 2,675 received condemnation notices so far, he reported. That’s nearly twice as many condemnations as were issued during the same time period last year.
But even Cleveland’s recent $8 million slice of a nationwide settlement with mortgage lenders, earmarked for demolition in the aftermath of the foreclosure epidemic, falls far short of meeting the city’s needs for the task ahead.
Brancatelli said the meeting in Washington was a hopeful sign that the problem ranks among the federal government’s priorities. In the meantime, condemning properties not only will facilitate demolition down the line, but will hammer slum landlords into code compliance and stop banks and property owners from dumping blighted houses on the market, he said.
“Having the cloud of condemnation over these properties is like the scarlet letter,” Brancatelli said. “We need to cloud the title so people will stop dumping this real estate on anyone willing to take it… The end of the line is not just demolition. It’s code compliance and bringing up the standard of housing in Cleveland.”