March 20, 2012 [The Plain Dealer]
The foreclosure epidemic — coming after years of depopulation and disinvestment — has left Cleveland and cities large and small throughout Northeast Ohio saddled with tens of thousands of community-destroying abandoned properties.
Those vacant structures not only depress the value of neighboring properties, they also are staging areas for criminals. Since many — if not most — are mere shells at this point, there is no realistic prospect of returning them to the market. The best, maybe the only, solution, is to tear them down. That removes blight, creates open space and raises the possibility of future constructive use.
But demolitions, on average, cost $7,500, and despite the best efforts of Cleveland and other communities — plus the Cuyahoga County Land Bank since 2009 — there’s never been enough money to do what needs to be done. The federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program has helped, but only 10 percent of that money can be used for demolition.
Fortunately, other officials are getting creative. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has earmarked $75 million for demolition from the state’s share of a nationwide mortgage fraud settlement. The city of Cleveland, the land bank and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason are pooling $14 million in hopes of getting a match from DeWine’s fund.
U.S. Reps. Steve LaTourette and Marcia Fudge have an even bigger idea: a $4 billion federal bond fund for demolition; especially hard-hit areas would be eligible for extra money. Communities trying to recover from the abandonment plague need lots of help, and the bipartisan duo have come up with a clever way to provide it. Congress should move quickly to enact their idea.