March 5, 2014 [The Plain Dealer]
It is a cold day in Ohio – and maybe the netherworld – when government so clearly works for the common good.
It happened on Friday – high teens, low 20s – for certain, when the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which administers the Hardest Hit Funds, a federal foreclosure prevention initiative, announced that 11 counties and cities would receive $49.5 million to stabilize neighborhoods through strategic demolition of blighted properties.
“It’s a real big deal,” said Jim Rokakis, architect of the demolition funding strategy and director of the Thriving Communities Institute at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
Cuyahoga County will receive the biggest chunk of cash — $10.1 million – as befits Ground Zero of the property apocalypse.
At least 12,000, and as many as 15,000, eyesores (and potential crime scenes) deserve the wrecking ball throughout the county, Rokakis estimated.
The latest infusion of federal dollars will help address the giant sucking sounds that used to be neighborhoods, but it is not enough.
The average cost of a demolition is $12,000, according to Frank Ford, senior policy adviser at the institute. The $10.1 million allocation is expected to raze 841 distressed properties.
That leaves a lot of zombie properties standing, and underscores the urgency for County Executive Ed FitzGerald to deliver on his promise last month of $50 million in new county bonds to demolish homes and “protect and restore our neighborhoods.”
FitzGerald needs to provide a comprehensive plan to County Council – when will the bonds be issued and other key details – and council needs to approve the request.
A recent study – commissioned by the institute and funded by multiple stakeholders, including Cleveland City Council and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine – demonstrated that strategic demolition of blighted structures stabilized and increased real estate values, decreased foreclosure rates and lessened tax delinquencies.
How compelling was the study?
It convinced the Treasury Department to free up Hardest Hit funds — earmarked to help homeowners avoid foreclosure and keep a roof over their heads – for other foreclosure prevention strategies such as demolition. Last August, $60 million in Ohio was diverted for that purpose.
A second round of allocations for the remaining $11.5 million will be held this summer, according to an Ohio Housing Finance Agency spokeswoman.
Also in the works is bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Marcia Fudge, a Warrensville Heights Democrat, Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, and David Joyce, a Russell Township Republican, that would permanently allocate Hardest Hit funds for strategic demolition nationwide.