Fighting foreclosure blight with creativity: editorial

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Fighting foreclosure blight with creativity: editorial

April 1, 2013 [The Plain Dealer]

The key to victory is to “know thy enemy,” as Sun Tzu wrote more than 2,000 years ago in the seminal “Art of War.” That stratagem could not be more relevant today as Cleveland and Cuyahoga County battle back against zombie properties and vacant lots that afflict neighborhoods from Mount Pleasant to Gates Mills.

A Plain Dealer investigation published Sunday attempted to quantify the fallout by compiling a list of properties without water service and by reviewing foreclosure and sheriff’s sale records. Reporters Dave Davis and Rich Exner identified more than 17,000 residences in Cuyahoga and parts of Summit and Medina counties. They also crunched numbers to show that older, inner-ring suburbs such as Maple Heights, Euclid, Garfield Heights and Warrensville Heights were among the hardest hit.

“It’s a $100 million problem,” acknowledged Gus Frangos, head of the Cuyahoga County land bank, for this editorial.

A challenge of that magnitude requires a diverse response that combines strategic use of limited demolition dollars as well as innovative rehab tactics such as the loft-conversion initiative that Plain Dealer reporter Olivera Perkins wrote about Sunday.

The low-cost, design-on-a-dime loft conversions are a hit with the younger creative class in a pilot project that brings together the land bank, the St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and local developer Chuck Scaravelli.

Other successful land bank initiatives include the Owner Occupant Buyer Advantage Program, which has put handy homeowners willing to invest sweat equity into about 150 properties, according to Frangos.

There will never be enough demolition dollars to raze every abandoned property — nor should that be the goal. Luring private investments with creative approaches, as the loft-conversion project aims to do, is one way to make an impact in blighted neighborhoods.