Cincinnati Posts Population Gain for Second Consecutive Year

Cincinnati has added about 1,000 new people since the decennial census in 2010, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The modest increase comes from two consecutive years of population gains that followed an immediate downward revision after the 2010 Census. The increase also means that just Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton were the only big cities (more than 50,000 people) in Ohio to post gains.

Columbus and Cincinnati, meanwhile, were the only big cities to post population gains for the past two years.

The population estimates are derived using the 2010 Census as a baseline and then factoring in new permitted residential construction and mobile homes, and subtracting out the estimated number of homes lost each year. As a result, all of the annual estimates should come with a grain of salt.

Ohio Cities Comparison

With that said, Dayton’s population gains appear to be an anomaly, while the increases in Columbus and Cincinnati appear to be more rooted. In any case, the news for Ohio’s big cities is not good as the rest all lost population, especially those in the northeastern part of the state.

Columbus continues to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s big cities in terms of its population trends. In this latest estimate release, Columbus posted the fifteenth largest numeric population gain of any municipality in America; and it comes on the heels of equally impressive gains in prior years.

Some observers, however, would attribute some of the gains in Columbus to its unusually large municipal boundaries that include what would be far suburbs in other Ohio regions.

While Columbus has been growing by about 1.5% annually over the past several years, Cincinnati has been growing annually by about 0.25%.

When compared with other peer cities, Cincinnati’s gains look even more tepid.

Peer Cities Comparison

Of fifteen other cities competitive with Cincinnati, the city bested only five of them in terms of population growth, while being significantly outperformed by most all others. In this comparison, even Ohio’s best performer – Columbus –fares only reasonably well against the field.

For Cincinnati’s peer cities, national trends appear to hold true. Southern cities continue to grow at the fastest clip, but their growth rates are leveling off. In our comparison, Austin, Atlanta and Tampa have all experienced significant declines in annual population growth since the 2010 Census. Charlotte has also experienced a similar trend, but appears to be holding steady more so than its Sun Belt peers.

Meanwhile, while many Midwestern cities continue to lose population, they are doing so at a slower rate or have stopped the losses entirely.

As we previously examined on UrbanCincy, the Cincinnati region continues to grow by about 0.4% annually. The City of Cincinnati’s 2013 gain represents approximately 12.5% of the total regional population growth, and half of Hamilton County’s increase last year.

In a nutshell, Cincinnati is over performing regionally, but under performing amongst its peers. If Cincinnati were growing as fast as Charlotte or Austin, the city would be adding around 9,000 new people every year.

What should a shrinking city do with its vacant housing stock?

Losing population isn’t fun, and a host of cities throughout the U.S. have been losing population since their collective peaks in the 1950s. Cincinnati is one of those cities. Along with the troubling finances this presents, it also creates the predicament of deciding what to do with vacant households left behind. In Cincinnati, and many others, the decision has been to tear down homes and hope for something better. More from The New York Times:

A recent Brookings Institution study found that from 2000 to 2010 the number of vacant housing units nationally had increased by 4.5 million, or 44 percent. And a report by the University of California, Berkeley, determined that over the past 15 years, 130 cities, most with relatively small populations, have dissolved themselves, more than half the total ever recorded in the United States. The continuing struggles of former manufacturing centers have fundamentally altered urban planning, traditionally a discipline based on growth and expansion.

President Obama Shifts Attention Toward Economy, Cities in 2013 State of the Union Address

President Barack Obama (D) delivered the annual State of the Union address last evening. The hour-long speech covered a wide range of topics including gun control, military policy, immigration reform, voting rights, domestic economic programs, education reform, and energy policy.

One of the most-discussed topics of the evening was when the President announced his aspirations to see the national minimum wage raised to $9 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour results in an annual income of $14,500 – a number the President says keeps families with two minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

In 2006, Ohioans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living escalator.

“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” President Obama stated. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 1

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 2
The President called for a “Fix-It-First” program during his State of the Union address, but will it make a difference for Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge Rehabilitation/Replacement project? Brent Spence Bridge replacement Alternative 1 (TOP) and Alternative 2 (BOTTOM) renderings provided.

Since the last time Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage, which is effective for all states that have a minimum wage lower than the federal level, 19 different states have voted to raise their respective rates. The President’s $9 an hour proposal with an annual cost-of-living escalator would place it above every state in the union with the exception of Washington which pays its lowest earning workers $9.19 an hour.

In addition to raising the pay for the nation’s lowest earners, the President also pushed for new programs meant to spur job growth in a new economy. He called for the reform of high school education to more effectively train graduates to be able to fill high-tech jobs.

He also asked Congress to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation hubs, modeled after the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) established in Youngstown, OH in August 2012. Those cities selected, the President says, would work to partner businesses with the Department of Defense and Energy.

The President stated that the goal is to transform “regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs” in an effort to jumpstart the next revolution in manufacturing.

The advanced manufacturing policy proposal is one that should certainly catch the attention of local policy leaders as they work to transform Cincinnati’s Mill Creek Valley into a productive economic engine for the 21st century, as laid out in the Growth & Opportunities Cincinnati Plan published in 2008.

Another point of emphasis during the President’s first State of the Union address of his second term revolved around repairing the nation’s existing built environment.

To that end, he discussed retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient, and announced a goal to cut energy wasted by homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years. President Obama continued by calling for a program that would prioritize infrastructure spending on existing assets in need of repair, like Ohio and Kentucky’s combined 4,054 deficient bridges.

“I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs,” said President Obama. “And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.”

Perhaps the biggest bi-partisan applause of the night went to the President’s condemnation of gun violence and call for action to prevent further atrocities like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and those that occur on the streets of America’s cities every day.

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight,” President Obama clarified. “But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”

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.