Putting Ohio's predatory lender settlement demolition is smart: editorial

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Putting Ohio’s predatory lender settlement demolition is smart: editorial

February 10, 2012 [The Plain Dealer]

The average home in Cleveland is on the market for 954 days before it sells.

That shocking statistic from land bank guru Jim Rokakis, now director of the Thriving Communities Institute, is a polite way of saying there is no market for homes in Cleveland.

But an overdue wrecking ball may soon be swinging at the city’s legacy of vacant and abandoned homes.

Rokakis, the former Cuyahoga County treasurer, spearheaded creation of the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., the state’s first countywide land bank. And he was on hand Friday morning when Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced what Ohio hopes to do with its share of a $25 billion federal-state settlement with five of the largest mortgage lenders in the country over allegedly predatory practices.

Ohio will get $335 million of that compensation, and DeWine has earmarked $75 million for demolition — a bold first step toward eradicating the blight that scars cities from Akron to Zoar.

But first on that list must be Cleveland — and in that light, it was significant that DeWine held his press conference in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Rokakis said the average sale price of homes in that once solidly middle-class area had dropped from $71,000 in 2005 to $23,000 today.

The true victims of the foreclosure crisis are not the people who took out subprime loans, but rather the people who live in neighborhoods where too many others did. Now, they are left to suffer the economic consequences and a skyrocketing crime rate.

DeWine says he is still working out how to divide the money in a state with an estimated 100,000 abandoned properties. But his intent is to have a dollar-for-dollar matching fund to get the biggest bang for the demolition dollar. County Prosecutor Bill Mason has already put $3 million on the table. The county land bank ponied up another $5 million. And Chris Warren, Cleveland’s chief of economic development, has pledged at least $4.5 million.

The timing coincides with Mayor Frank Jackson’s decision to form a task force to inspect thousands of vacant properties to determine which ones deserve a demolition date.

The DeWine initiative should serve as a model for other states benefiting from the settlement. An effective nonpartisan demolition strategy can begin to remedy the housing blight that’s impeding economic recovery and holding neighborhoods hostage.