Report: Cincinnati’s five-year outlook for building demolitions may approach 8,000

Home demolition photograph provided by Price Hill Will.

In September, city officials stood in Price Hill alongside state officials to announce plans to demolish up to 700 vacant and blighted buildings in Cincinnati. The funding for the ongoing effort comes from a state-wide program called Move Ohio Forward, which gives demolition funding to cities from money the state won in a settlement with large banks last year over the home foreclosure process and lack of property upkeep by the banks.

City officials estimate that there are currently 1,300 vacant and blighted properties awaiting demolition. The $5.84 million grant, when matched with $5.34 million from the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation and $3.49 million from the City, will provide enough funding to cover just over half of the total amount of demolitions mandated its own ordinances. The final amount of demolitions, officials say, will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.

“The Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program provides unprecedented blight abatement opportunity for the City to clear dangerous, obsolete buildings from neighborhoods, make way for redevelopment, and eventually raise property values,” Edward Cunningham, Property Maintenance & Code Enforcement Division Manager, told UrbanCincy.

In an effort to further control what happens with the cleared sites, the City of Cincinnati will work with Hamilton County’s new Land Reutilization Program in order to acquire tax delinquent properties. Once the buildings are demolished, the City will determine if the land can be used as parks, community gardens or rehabilitated into new housing. So far, however, only enough funding for lot restoration on 200 parcels has been identified.

In cases where the lots are private properties, and are not able to be acquired, it will be up to the property owners of the vacant lots to decide the future of their property. According to Cunningham, property owners will be allowed to maintain the lots, create parks, parking or new infill construction.

More Comprehensive Plan for Demolitions Needed
Property demolition has been used by many cities including Cincinnati as a method of addressing problem vacant buildings that have been condemned because they are hazards to human health and unsafe to occupy. While the debate on the impacts of foreclosure and vacant property is far from over, some of these buildings are “too far gone” in the eyes of building inspectors that they legitimately need to come down. And according to Cunningham, the buildings being demolished under this program are buildings that are beyond repair.

Once the demolitions are completed, one-by-one, it will create more land between occupied houses thus negatively impacting the completeness of the neighborhood’s form. Without a strategic plan, vacant and unmaintained lots could end up degrading neighborhoods in the same manner as blighted homes; however, vacant lots tend to be easier to maintain and do not pose as much of a risk as a standing structure.

Furthermore, demolitions made through this program on private land will place the cost burden on the property. Should the property owner not pay the assessment for the work, then the property could be foreclosed by Hamilton County, which would then open the land up to redevelopment. This process, however, does take a considerable amount of time and offers no guarantee of redevelopment.

Projected Housing Units in Five Year Demolition Pool by City for Ohio’s “Big Eight” Cities. Source U.S. Census Bureau.

The challenge of increasing amounts of abandoned and blighted housing is not symptomatic of Cincinnati alone, as many older industrial cities are facing the similar problems. A recent report from the Brookings Institute found that Cincinnati might have close to 8,000 buildings eligible for demolition in the next five years. The report also stated that while the demolitions have the potential to stabilize neighborhoods, excessive regulations and costs prevent cities from demolishing the amount of housing that should be demolished on an annual basis.

To overcome these hurdles the report makes a series of recommendations for cities to devise their own strategic demolitions plan.

“Planners, urban designers, and residents must together evaluate how demolishing a particular building will affect the texture of its block or area,” the Brookings Institute stated in Laying the Groundwork for Change: Demolition, urban strategy, and policy reform (2012).

Cities such as Cincinnati need to have a level of transparency in place that allows for neighborhood input on the reuse of the newly created vacant lots. It is not merely enough to encourage neighborhoods to help identify future uses for vacant lots as the city is doing now, it should be required.

As previously profiled on UrbanCincy, Cincinnati’s population decline is systemic and although vacant building demolition is more a testament to the large supply of housing versus demand, absent a strategic demolitions plan, the city should be mindful that stabilizing neighborhoods relies heavily on preserving existing housing or building new housing capacity and offering incentives or neighborhood upgrades that would attract new residents.

Political kickbacks land Cleveland major transit dollars

Vice President Joe Biden announced over $600 million in new awards for transit projects across the United States. The funding went to 191 different transit projects in 42 different states and Puerto Rico.

Ohio walked away with more than $24.5 million worth of transit funding, of which the overwhelming majority went to northeast Ohio, where the state’s two Senators are from, with $6 of transit funding going to each of the 2,088,291 people in the Cleveland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Cincinnati meanwhile ranks as Ohio’s most populous MSA with 2,155,137 people who received $0.13 each for transit funding (view full list of recipients).

The $6 per person transit funding for Cleveland equates to roughly half of Ohio’s total funding received and more than $12.5 million. The Cincinnati MSA barely made the list at all as Middletown, on the far northern reaches of Cincinnati’s metropolitan area, received the MSA’s only funding of just under $281,000.

Cleveland MSA received $6/person while Ohio’s most populous metropolitan area received just $0.13/person. Click chart to open large version in new window.

In a press release received from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Vice President Biden stated that, “Investing in these transit upgrades not only puts construction workers on the job at project sites, but supports American manufacturing jobs all the way down the supply chain. At a time when jobs are priority number one, that means twice the employment bang for the Recovery Act buck.”

One could make the argument that the Cleveland metropolitan area received the most money to help create and retain jobs in arguably Ohio’s most devastated market in terms of jobs and foreclosures. The evidence further supports this when you see that Columbus and Cincinnati, the state’s two strongest job markets, received the smallest per-capita funding. That is where the connections stop though, as Dayton, ranking close to Cleveland as one of Ohio’s worst economic performers, received a measly $0.84 per person for transit funding.

“Investing in modern, efficient transit systems will mean safe, reliable travel and clean air in our communities” said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “These projects are putting thousands of Americans to work right now while improving the lives of millions of Americans for years to come”

Unfortunately while this is true, it seems that at least in Ohio that these funds were distributed based on political ties than anything else. Both Senator Sherrod Brown and Senator George Voinovich hail from northeast Ohio Maybe not shocking, but certainly disappointing especially if you are one of the hundreds of thousands living in Hamilton County that voted for Senator Brown in 2006 and in turn saw $0 of this transit funding.