Vacant Properties

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.

The Need for Targeted Demolition

Written by Jacob Wolf, GOPC Researcher

Two recent news articles discuss Ohio legacy cities’ use of demolition programs when faced with large numbers of vacant and abandoned properties. However, the articles also point out that demolition alone is not a complete solution for these problems.

Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding,” which appeared in The New York Times on Nov. 12th, provides an overview of demolition activities in Cleveland, Youngstown, and various other legacy cities nationwide. With city populations declining to fractions of what they once were, some demolition becomes necessary. For example, the average vacant house in Cleveland costs $10,000 to demolish, but it would cost $27,000 per year to maintain in hopes of a future rehabilitation.

However, with resources for demolition limited, cities must prioritize and target their demolition activities to make the maximum impact. Case in point, a recent report by BCT Partners—a firm that works with HUD—recommended a better focus for Youngstown’s demolition. The report’s findings are explained in “Firm urges Youngstown to focus on healthier neighborhoods,” published in the Youngstown Vindicator on Nov. 25th. “If Youngstown is to survive as a residential location,” states the report, “it must shift focus from prioritizing those areas with severe blight to stabilizing healthier neighborhoods and retaining the existing population.”

Youngstown officials say the city had been prioritizing demolition in the most blighted neighborhoods, because those houses cost the least to demolish. They also said EPA regulations and the requirements of the Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) program, which funded the demolitions, necessitated this more “scattershot” approach. While Youngstown has demolished more than 2,600 structures since 2006, more than 4,000 remain in the city. The focus of Youngstown going forward should shift to prioritizing the “quality” of demolitions over the “quantity,” and other cities should follow this lead.

Revitalizing Ohio's Vacant Properties: The 2013 Summit

Revitalizing Ohio's Vacant Properties:

Tools & Policies to Transform Communities

October 22-23, 2013 The Westin Columbus 310 S. High Street Columbus, Ohio, 43215

The Greater Ohio Policy Center & The Thriving Communities Institute invite you to attend Revitalizing Ohio's Vacant Properties, a two-day interactive training and policy solutions summit that will offer hands-on techniques and strategies to address vacant and abandoned property development challenges and generate redevelopment opportunities. It is intended for local and regional leaders, land bank practitioners, nonprofit community development organizations, as well as private sector representatives.

The summit will provide opportunities for input into policy reforms that arm local leaders with new tools and that align policies with local community development needs. Sessions will feature local practitioners, financial institutions, and state and national level redevelopment experts. The Institute’s goals—training and education, coalition-building and policy advancement—are vital to productively revitalize Ohio’s communities.

For questions or sponsorship opportunities, please contact Kate Hydock of Thriving Communities Institute (khydock@wrlandconservancy.org or 216-515-8300) or Christina Burke of Greater Ohio Policy Center (cburke@greaterohio.org or 614-224-0187).

Agenda and online registration information to come.