January 19, 2016 [Erin O’Brien, Freshwater Cleveland]
As part of the state’s effort to eliminate blight, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency announced last November that it would distribute $13 million in funding for the demolition of distressed residential properties. This was the fourth such round of the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP), which has received $79 million in funding from the U. S. Department of Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund.
Cuyahoga County received $6,075,000 of the $13 million.
“This program started in summer of 2014,” says Cuyahoga Land Bank’s chief operating officer Bill Whitney of the NIP. “Before this $6 million, we received $14 million and have spent approximately $13 million of that.” In doing so, he adds, the organization has demolished about 1,050 properties with the funds, 850 of which were done in 2015.
“This last award of $6 million brings the total to $20 million since 2014,” says Whitney of the NIP funding. “We expect now be able to continue the program and probably demolish an additional 480 to 500 properties.”
Of the 12 Ohio counties receiving these most recently announced allocations, Cuyahoga was awarded the lion’s share, with Lucas County’s $2.3 million allocation coming in second. The 10 other counties received $500,000 each.
Coming in “first” in a funding round such as this is sobering indeed, but not unexpected considering the state of northeast Ohio’s residential vacancy rate.
A comprehensive property survey conducted last year by Western Reserve Land Conservancy, in collaboration with the City of Cleveland, counted 3,809 vacant residential properties graded D (deteriorated) or F (unsafe or hazardous). When combined with the 1,437 residential properties condemned by the city, the total is 5,246 structures that may be candidates for demolition. While that figure is daunting, it is also 32 percent lower than the city’s 2013 estimate of 7,771 vacant and distressed properties.
The Cuyahoga Land Bank acquires foreclosed properties from HUD and Fannie May as well as tax foreclosures. Demolitions are restricted to vacant and abandoned blighted properties the organization owns. It does not demolish properties that have more than four units, those that might have historical significance or any property that is connected to other residences such as row homes.
Referencing a graphic that categorizes Cleveland neighborhoods and a host of eastside inner ring suburbs as either undergoing “revitalization” or nearing a “tipping point,” Whitney explains that the revitalization sections are experiencing the most severe effects of the foreclosure crisis. They are also in predominately African American neighborhoods.
“In general, the foreclosure crisis here – and maybe in other places – was extremely racist,” says Whitney.
If a property is salvageable, the land bank works with community development corporations and humanitarian organizations to rehabilitate it and put it to constructive use.
“We try to save any property we can,” says Whitney. The organization prioritizes at-risk populations such as refugees, veterans and the disabled. Partner organizations include the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and a host of area CDC’s. Whitney tags Slavic Village Development, Northeast Shores Development Corporation, the Famicos Foundation and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. In such cases, properties will transfer for as little as one dollar.
“Everybody needs housing,” says Whitney.
“To keep things in perspective,” he continues, “in our six years of operation, we’ve acquired about 5,000 properties. We’ve demolished about 3,500 and have been able to save about 1,000.” Of that number, approximately one third go to humanitarian causes with the balance going to market. Prospective buyers are thoroughly screened and the land bank holds the title until they have brought the property up to municipal code.
To get an idea of the task at hand, Fresh Water invites readers to scroll through the properties owned by Cuyahoga Land Bank.
“There’s still an awful lot of stuff to do,” says Whitney, “but it’s gradually getting better.”