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Recrafting Vacant Properties into Assests: Panel at HeritageOhio

By Ellen Turk, GOPC Intern I recently attended a panel at the HeritageOhio annual conference where Alison Goebel, Associate Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center along with Doug Lewis, Painesville Assistance City Manager and Josh Harmon, President of the Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association, discussed utilizing “Vacant Properties as Assets”.

Goebel explained that since the 1970s Ohio’s population has incrementally declined while land use for commercial purposes has remained stable. In addition to this decline, Ohioans’ demographic makeup has continued to age at a rapid rate. Vacant properties across the state have remained at about 10%, costing an estimated $15 million in city services each year with $49 million lost in taxpaying revenue. Eight cities in Ohio spent $41 million servicing vacant properties. To this end, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s guidebook, “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities,” functions as a resource for anyone seeking to redevelop and reuse vacant properties in downtown areas of towns or cities to promote economic growth.  Motivating business people and owners to invest in downtown properties and updating them can help attract visitors and generate revenue for communities.

But how do you encourage title owners to maintain their property or business owners to invest in local downtowns?

One method described in the guidebook and implemented successfully by Painesville Assistance City Manager Doug Lewis is through passing a Vacant Properties Ordinance. In Painesville, vacant properties can be owned by a variety of titleholders, including irresponsible owners and corporations not inclined to sell or maintain. The Ordinance requires owners to submit a Vacant Properties Plan whereby proprietors who do not comply with the rules of the Ordinance and proprietors who do not file the plan on time face fines. If the property is no longer deemed vacant, 30% of the building must be used and the first floor must be utilized.

Another way to curb irresponsible property ownership is through the courts. In Cleveland, the court system has stipulated that you can conduct no business within the court until you have paid off any outstanding fines to the court. This is very useful for incentivizing owners of multiple vacant buildings with fines to sell or generate revenue on the properties. Also, a Court Community Service program ensures minor offenders are placed in the community to perform manual labor and bring properties back to building code compliance.

According to the guidebook, another essential tool is hard data demonstrating the economic effects of revitalization. Josh Harmon spoke about the importance of data as a tool to show communities the detriments of having vacant properties. Census counts recording the number of vacant properties in an area is important. Often, showing residents a vacant property can act as a drain to city resources encourages them to support Vacant Building Ordinances. In Franklin County alone the last time that vacant properties were assessed was 2006! To mitigate vacant property problems, Greater Ohio Policy Center recommends targeting resources, forming alliances in the community, and defining the most effective way to allocate funds and assets.