The song “Spinning Wheels” by Blood, Sweat, and Tears seems appropriate for today as I drove downtown from the job Wednesday afternoon to stop in at my alma mater, The Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. This is one of the varieties of programs that my old college has to fill the large building at the corner of East 17th Street and Euclid Avenue.
Moderated by Charles (Chip) Bromley, Director of the Ohio Fair Lending Coalition, it featured former Country Treasurer (now Director of the Thriving Communities Institute) James Rokakis and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress Inc.’s Erika Anthony. To a packed room, they discussed how organizations such as theirs play a role in pivoting new housing and investment into rehabilitating housing.
The audience consisted of students, planners, and even two professors from when I was there as a student. Ms. Anthony, herself a graduate of the College, talked about how she’s now teaching a class there. As for the Ohio Fair Lending Coalition, it is a collaboration of fair lending organizations throughout Ohio and part of Organize! Ohio which is a community organizing group.
James Rokakis delivered one of his speeches on the impact County Land Banks have had not only in Cuyahoga County but throughout Ohio. Roughly half of the state’s 88 counties have one. Since 2008, the Land Bank Bill has been tweaked six times.
However, demolishing vacant buildings isn’t just an inner city phenomenon. “Blight is everywhere,” Mr. Rokakis told the audience and gave examples of small cities and towns throughout Ohio with downtowns as virtual ghost towns. The loss of local government funds has paralyzed communities such as Portsmouth and Elyria Ohio for that matter. He also added that Dan Gilbert’s Office was very helpful with getting the demolition fund money.
“People ask me ‘What are you going to do with all the vacant lots in Ohio?” Mr. Rokakis admitted, “ I have no idea.” However, at least in Cleveland some things such as infill housing, urban agriculture, and adjacent homeowners buying the vacant lots to add to their own yards is quite common. Warren Ohio had a plan to create wildflower gardens on their vacant properties. While studies show that these demolitions helped stabilize the property values of surrounding houses, many of the buildings that wind up in the Cuyahoga County Land Bank are structurally sound and, with some work, can be put back on the market.
For Erika Anthony, the goal of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress Inc. (also known as CNP), is not so much to tear down but to rehabilitate houses and getting people to move in them. As CNP’s Executive Summary states, “We estimate that 1,081 programmatic rehabs completed between 2009 and 2015 in Cuyahoga County preserved or increased just over half a million dollars_$539,318,3018_in its values of surrounding houses.” This is not an insignificant amount of money and this, combined with the work by the Land Banks, certainly stabilized the property values of many neighborhoods.
As for how all this impacts North Shore Collinwood, it’s hard to say. As of this writing, I’m still waiting for Ms. Anthony to get back with me with data on this. However, according to the map, the further West you go, the more stressed the submarkets’ become. Admittedly, on the East Side of Cleveland there are no truly higher functioning ownership areas. However, the submarket with East 185th St. (and where I happen to live) is in the Moderately Functioning Ownership category with 10-11 rehabs taken place there. In this category, the average impact per rehab is $501,651. It’s really hard to tell how this translates into neighborhood property values but the average median price has not only stabilized but we up again a little since the mortgage meltdown of almost a decade ago. On the other hand, it is still a far cry from what houses off East 185th St. were fetching in 1997.
One felt there that the speakers as well as many in the audience were all trying to squeeze blood from the proverbial stone when it comes to finding the funds not just for home rehabing but other programs as well. The elimination of the local municipal fund by the Kasich Administration was a major blow to city planning and housing departments and the proposed cut to HUD’s budget trickles down into less money from the Federal Government as well.
It will be interesting to note how the housing market and the money available for home and land bank programs will fare in the next few years. In the meantime, there will be more Brown Bag lunches.