About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development, Uncategorized

The Ohio Land Bank Conference.

The Seventh Annual Ohio Land Bank Conference was held Monday through Wednesday September 11th through the 13th at the Crown Plaza Hotel in downtown Cleveland.   Presented by the Thriving Communities Program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, members of 46 Land Banks throughout the State of Ohio, along with many others, met for two days of seminars, networking, and speeches.

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Crown Plaza Hotel at Playhouse Square.

The keynote speaker of the event was former Ohio Treasurer (and current head of the Consumer Protection Bureau) Richard Cordray who stopped in for Lunch on his way to the West Coast.  While his aid was coy about whether or not he was going to run for governor, her boss sure delivered what was in effect a campaign speech.  The one comment of his that stuck out was that, when it comes to delinquent properties; “There’s no fixing until someone comes in the fix them.”  That’s where the Land Banks come in.

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Jim Rokakis and Richard Cordray (right) smile for the camera.

There were seminars as well, at an extra cost, on location mobile workshops for those interested in getting out of the hotel and into the area. Cleveland’s Buckeye Neighborhood: A Case Study in Comprehensive Community Redevelopment and Rid All Green Partnership Growing Food, Jobs and Green Neighborhoods.  The one that intrigued me the most was the one done by Ian Beniston and Tiffany Sokol; the Executive Director of the Youngstown Development Corporation (YNDC).  They have managed without Federal subsidies or tax credits, to repurpose vacant houses in that city, sell them to permanent homeowners, and in the process increase the property values in ‘tipping point’ neighborhoods.  Last year, the YNDC rehab bed 23 homes.  The vast majority who work on the rehabs are local residents; laborers, electricians, etc., and they use Facebook to market them.  The average day a house is on the market is 2 days, compared to a 9 month average for homes in Youngstown as a whole.  Another interesting fact is that the deed requires the purchaser to occupy the house for at least five years.

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Terry Schwarz, the director of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, was prominent in two seminars at the Conference. In Rehab Strategies for Vacant Properties, she joined a panel that included Kathleen Crowther of the Cleveland Restoration Society on showing what can be done to rehab vacant properties.  The main market challenge is ensuring true equity and quality of work on a project as well as establishing worth. In other words, after they rehab a house will it help raise property values on that street?  Their look at the historic Scofield Mansion I found particularly interesting. Built in 1898 by Cleveland architect Levi Scofield, it was abandoned by 1997 and after complications involving the Cleveland Housing Court wound up with the County Land Bank who in turn gave it to the Restoration Society.  With donated services, it was able to do some stabilizing work on the property, such as cleaning out rooms and doing much needed masonry repair. The plan is to completely restore the mansion to it’s former glory.  It will be interesting to see the final results.  Ms. Schwarz was also in the Vacancy and Climate Resilience Seminar where she joined Nicholas Rajkovich in showing how cities can use their vacant parcels for storm water management, green space, and reforestation programs.

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Nicholas Rajkovich and Terry Schwarz at their presentation.

Working Together, how to revitalize our neighborhoods was presented by Summit Land Bank head Patrick Bravo and the Director of Planning and Urban Development for the city of Akron,, Jason Segedy (who I remembered from a Building One Ohio Conference a few years back).  They don’t want to do Hunter Morrison’s “Shrinking Cities Thing,” as they called it.  Instead, they want Akron to grow.  In 2016, they did a Market Analysis study for the city and many neighborhoods are ‘too affordable’.  However, one=quarter of the city’s neighborhoods (like around Stan Hywet Hall) are competing very well in the real estate market.

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A view of the ballroom at lunch, September 12, 2017.

When I asked him in a subsequent email, Jim Rokakis replied that he hoped the attendees got something truly beneficial from the conference.  “I wanted them to see best practices of other land banks around the state of Ohio,” he wrote back, ” I wanted them to share ideas.  I wanted them to help us chart a course going forward.  When we do this, and this is our seventh, we do it to create an open and free exchange of ideas and to encourage each other in this very important work.”  As for me, what did I get out of it?  Having that Masters in Urban Planning gathering dust somewhere in my bedroom, nevertheless, I think that the Land Bank Conference was an excellent way to see what is now going on in community development matters in Northeast Ohio, and what individuals are doing right now to solve some serious problems in their home towns; most notably what to do with the vacant properties that still plague the home of John Kasich’s “Ohio Miracle.”  In fact, I have been thinking about contacting people I know involved with the Northeast Shores Development Corporation to see if they can head out to Youngstown for the day and let Ian show them how they can apply his measures to North Shore Collinwood.  After all, there are land bank houses that can be rehabilitated and sold there too.

Next year Mr. Rokakis said he wanted the Conference to be at Ohio State University in Columbus.   As for this year’s conference, you can access the presentations online at https://www.wrlandconservancy.org/sessions/.

 

Photographs taken by James Valentino.

 

 

 

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About Cleveland, My blog., Uncategorized

Riding the Rails with the Lake Shore Live Steamers.

 

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A mobbed Penitentiary Glen Nature Park, September 10th 2017.

About twenty minutes from Cleveland in Kirtland in Lake County is the Penitentiary Glen Nature Park.  Originally called Halle Farm, it was the summer home of Sam Halle of the Halle Brothers Department Store who purchased the place in 1912.  Since 1976 the 424 acre property has been owned by the Lake Metroparks.   I have driven past this place over the years and it always seemed busy.  This year, I discovered one fo the reasons why; something very unique.

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A view of the station and would be riders.

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A train coming into the station.

 

Just a few yards away from the nature center on the edge of the woods is a train station which serves as the depot for the Lake Shore Live Steamers; whose miniature trains ride the rails through the trees.  These are not toy trains however, but more like the one that  Walt Disney rode on in his home movies.  Volunteers, such as fellow North Shore Collinwood resident (and former radio guy) Dennis Crislip, operate the locomotives and people can ride on top of the freight and passenger cars they pull.  Twelve times a year, the public is allowed to join in the fun.

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One of the trains.

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Riding the rails towards the covered bridge.  Taken in August.

Established in 1969, Lake Shore Rails came to Penitentiary Glen in 1983 when the back orchard track was laid out.  Since then, more routes have been added and there are 30 trains in total operated by the members. All of them are privately owned, built from kits and on  a few occasions completely from scratch.  They are powered by gas operated engines with hydroelectric pumps.  The train cars have an incredible amount of detail to them.  In the case of the Boston Main Locomotive that really caught my attention, the story behind the Pullman cars it pulled is worth noting.  The man who built it wrote the Pullman Company to see if he could obtain a swatch of their paint color so he can match the paint as authentic as possible.  The company must have been quite impressed with him since they wound up sending him cans of paint in the original color.

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The layout of the railroad routes.

According the President Ken Brooks, there are clubs like this all over the county.  In fact there is one large one in Arizona that attracts a national following.  However, they don’t run until January because of the heat.

Naturally, the Lake Metroparks take the opportunity to use these free ride events as a way of promoting their own events.  The second time I went, September 10th, was Bug Day and the Nature Center was almost as busy as the railroad with families exploring the rooms and looking at the displays. As it turned out, what I thought was the Halle residence is in fact the stables with an addition built when it became a nature center; doubling its size.  The horses were sure living in style back in the day!  There are a few other buildings associated with the farm to the north, including one where the railroad enthusiasts store their trains.

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One family poses for the camera.

The Lake Shore Steamers will be having their free Sunday rides from 1:00-3:00 PM off and on throughout the rest of the year, including today, October 9th, and December 2nd. Dennis mentioned that they are always looking for volunteers which can mean those lucky individuals can hop on the rails twenty-eight other times of the year.   This is really one of the hidden gems of NE Ohio.

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The Nature Center.

Photographs taken by James Valentino.

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About Cleveland, My blog., Uncategorized

Jazzing It Up At Another Beachland.

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The Stokes Legacy Orchestra at Beachland Park.

One or two of you out there may recall a piece I wrote for this blog about the old village of Nottingham and where the name Beachland came from and how it got associated with that area of North Shore Collinwood east of Euclid Creek.  It all started with a housing development over 100 years ago consisting of a few streets off of Lake Shore Boulevard.  Those streets are still there today as is the part at the end of them called, believe it or not, Beachland Park.  It was in this space overlooking Lake Erie that I went Thursday evening to hear my cousin’s two boys and their friend play in a jazz band.  It wasn’t just any jazz band but the Tri-C JazzFest Stokes Legacy Jazz Orchestra.   Led by Dominick Farinacci, the ensemble brings together students from various high schools and colleges with professional jazz performers in creating a pretty good show.

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The boys’ parents, who live in Westlake, seem to come over here a lot; to the other Beachland on Waterloo.  As for their grandparents (AKA my Aunt and Uncle in Twinsburg) they have been over the family homestead off and on over the years so not at all a stranger to the area.

It was to start at 7:30 PM and I decided to be there a half an hour early.  However, walking halfway down the street, it began to downpour and I wound up underneath roof of a pavilion drenched.   It was only when the skies cleared, after eight, that the show began, and it was worth it.  One of the performers that really impressed me was a 12 year old girl from Hudson who sang like a pro.  As for my second cousins on the drums and guitar, they were excellent as always.  The older of the two just graduated from St. Edward’s High School and will start attending a conservatory in Connecticut at the end of the month.

I had to leave early to get ready for the job the next morning.  However, the place was packed and my relatives stayed for the entire concert.  When I got to where my car was parked across from the Beachland Presbyterian Church it was still there; like I knew it would be.

As for Beachland Park, it is one of a string of lakefront private parks overlooking Lake Erie in the North Shore Collinwood Neighborhood of Cleveland (East Park being the one most recognized by locals).  They have proven to be one of the main attractions for people who have purchased homes here and sparked, at least north of the Boulevard, some major investment over the past couple of years.

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Steps leading down to Lake Erie.

This is just one of the many hidden gems located in the northeast corner of Cleveland.

 

 

Photographs taken by James Valentino.

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A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

Let’s Take a Break at the Lake: Another Quick Little Post.

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The East 55th St. Marina lookng West.

One of the reasons I haven’t been able to write as much as I wanted is because of all the things that have been happening at once. This does not include what is being shown on the news everyday. Last Sunday there was an afternoon with Jerry Springer in Bainbridge Ohio.  Friday, a planning and zoning workshop in Warren Ohio.  This week block watches and ward club meetings once I get home from the job.    I have to use the lunch break on the job just to read the Washington Post Daily 202 just to get my bearings with what the heck is happening to this country.   I wound up listening to NPR’s broadcast of the James Comey hearing in my car as I drove from work to get ready for my dental appointment.

To think that two years ago we would be at this point right now boggles my mind.

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A view of the marina looking West.

So, when things are spinning around you and you shoe horn things into your daily routine so they can get done, what do you do?  Well, in my case drive to the East 55th St. Marina Saturday night to hear a band and hang out by the water.   A waitress at a local diner told me about this and in some ways it’s one of Cleveland’s best kept secrets.  The marina, just west of the remains of Gordon Park  and the now demolished First Energy Power Plant, hase been driven past by thousands of commuters from Eastern Cuyahoga and Lake Counties daily as they head downtown to work or go to the West Side.  It’s that easy to miss since it looks like a blur of docked boats with an ugly structure at the end of a parking lot extending into the Lake.   However, there’s a little more to it than what meets the eye.

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View of the restaurant/shop from the dock.

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Looking North from the shore.

Every Saturday night in the summer, the marina is host to a series of bands just like those held at Edgewater Park on Thursdays or at Wade Oval at University Circle on Wednesdays.  However, with a smaller crowd and ample parking, the ones at the marina seem more appealing.  Also, instead of a bunch of food trucks, there is an outdoor bar and restaurant people can order from.  While the place may not have the bottles of champagne in wine cases that I saw Friday at Warren’s Avalon Inn, there is a pretty full bar there and soft drinks too which is what I settled for.  The menu is basic but from what I see just as good as what you can find at Wendy Park on the other side of town. There’s even a little shop.

Since they took over, the Cleveland Metroparks have taken measure to improve the maria (as they have the other parks and beaches they acquired like in North Collinwood).  However, I think that more can be done.   As I stood on that pier jutting out into the water I looked across to the breakwall.   For some reason, I can see at least six boathouses like I saw up in the Muskoka Lakes Region of Canada being built there.   I can also see a water taxi to downtown and Edgewater Park or better a tour boat like I saw in Erie PA going out on Lake Erie from there going to, let’s say, Grand River Ohio for lunch.  You can dream up a lot of things standing at the end of a dock.

Another crazy week in the news coming up.

 

Photographs by James Valentino

 

 

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A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

Northeast Shores’ Membership Meeting; A Quick Little Post.

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The NE Shores Development Corp. Meeting at Euclid Beach.

I truly believe that to have a successful city, you must have strong neighborhoods.  One of the signs of this is to have a good network of local development corporations that work with the community.  The Collinwood area happens to have two of them; the one representing North Shore Collinwood being the Northeast Shores Development Corporation.  This has been around for decades and I remember stopping in their offices in the 90’s when they were actually housed in a building next to Euclid General Hospital. Board members, and executive directors, come and go but I’ve been a fairly loyal member.  However, Wednesday’s Quarterly Membership meeting was the first I’ve been to in a year.  Instead of at the Collinwood Rec Center, they decided to put it across the street at Euclid Beach Park.  That’s where I went a little before 6:00 to the pavilion to see what was going on.

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Mary Louise Daily speaks with Scott standing next to her.  New Executive Director Camille M. Maxwell sits to his left.

I knew some of the people already, such as Councilman Michael Polensek’s aide Mary Louise Daley, but the vast majority were new faces. Even the new Board president, a guy named Scott, I never met before.  However, I wound up staying there for over an hour and a half, and not just because of the hot dogs.  They just appointed a new Director and I got to chat with some of the staff for the first time in years.  None lives in the neighborhood.  However, one young lady did just buy a house in Old Brooklyn which at least is in the city.  As for the business development specialist, he lives in the same area of Cleveland Heights where my mother grew up.  As for the new director, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Actually, a lot of positive things are still taking place here.  Work is still going on regarding the new Euclid Beach Pier.  As for the La Salle Theater on East 185th Street, they are in the process of getting more funding for the renovation project there.  Also, we’re going to get one of the big white Cleveland signs like the one that everyone has been taking photos with at Edgewater Park.  Considering the terrible events last month at Mr. Car, this meeting put things all back into perspective.  While my neighborhood is not one of those targeted in that new Cleveland State Univeristy study commissioned by Mayor Jackson for investment, it still on the cusp of becoming one happening place.  Chatting with some of the people there, I met a lady who moved here from Shaker.  She told me that a realtor told her that the area where she moved to was getting a lot of money coming in renovating those lakefront properties.  Also, like many of the other former Heights’ residents who moved into North Shore Collinwood over the past few decades, she loves the lower taxes from what she was formerly paying.

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I hope the Corporation starts renovating their new offices on East 185th St. soon so they can move back there.  I also will try to attend more meetings to see what is going on.

 

Photographs by James Valentino

 

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A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

Buying Irises; A Quick Little Post.

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The main entrance to the Rockefeller Greenhouse seen on East 88th St.

In light of all that has been going on, not just on the news but also in this blogger’s life, I haven’t gotten around to seriously working on a post that I’ve been researching for weeks. However, I offer to my readers (roughly all three of you) this quick little post!

The Rockefeller Greenhouse had their annual plant sale Thursday May 18th through yesterday.  Fortunately, I was able to get there around 10:15 A.M. yesterday  Organized by volunteers, it may not be as flashy as the sales organized at the Holden Arboretum but this one draws a good crowd as evident by the cars parked on the street and the parking lot in the park on across the road.  I went there determined to buy a few dwarf irises for the garden.  I knew that I could find them there since I bought one last year at a table manned by iris enthusiasts who tend the Greenhouse’s Willott Iris Garden, many of the plants in the pots being grown from rhizomes thinned from it during their regular maintenance.

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Ron (left) and Bob (right) pose for the camera.

I wound up striking up a conversation with a man named Bob who sat behind the table with occasional comments from his colleague Ron who was busy for the most par running around.

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The Willott Iris Garden.

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A view of one of the beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Iris Garden is past its peak bloom but there are still many plants with flowers of a nice array of colors.  I wasn’t able to locate the two that I purchased but spotted some that I hope Bob, Ron, and the others would thin out for next year’s plant sale.    The origins of the garden started in 2008 when the iris hybridizer Tony Willott died leaving behind his rows of hybrid irises.  So, with the support of his widow Dorothy, a group of iris enthusiasts got together, cataloged then, dug them up and by 2012 had them replanted on the grounds of the Rockefeller Greenhouse.  Today, the Willott garden is a big attractions in late spring with its many blooming irises of various sizes.

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As for yours truly, I bought two dwarf irises for the yard and they are now in the ground. One, Laurelwood, is a very unique rust bi-colored one while the other, Dainty Design, is an apricot colored one brused with cream. They should be very nice additions to the garden.  However, it will take a whole year to see if they bloom and a lot of things can happen in the meantime.  As for the plant sale, from the way the crowd was even on its’ last day, I’m positive it was a success.

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My two purchases .

 

Photographs by James Valentino

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About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

Back to a Brown Bag Lunch.

 

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The Brown Bag Lunch.

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.

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Erika Anthony (left) and James Rokakis (center) at the Brown Bag Lunch.

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.

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Charles Bromley checks out the audience.

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Cleveland Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli listens during the Q&A session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Map of Cuyahoga County showing sub-markets and location of rehabilitated properties.

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.

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