A Look Back on my Internship at GOPC

April 22nd, 2016

By Addie DesRoches, GOPC Intern

As my time as an Intern is winding down at the Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC), I have taken some time to look back on my experience as part of the organization. After anxiously waiting to begin my internship at GOPC, Deputy Director Alison Goebel helped me feel more at ease on my first day. She introduced me to many of the staff members and then took me into her office to discuss what I would be doing at GOPC. I then met with Sheldon Johnson and Colleen Durfee, who showed me how to track conferences and call for submission deadlines on a spreadsheet. Later, Lindsey Gardiner introduced me to a project where I would sort through House and Senate bills that involved rural, suburban, and urban revitalization, which she ultimately presented to the House.  I also helped create a list of contact information of representatives running for House in the next cycle who are involved with Lindsey’s bill.

A few months later, I met Dr. Nobuhisa Taira of Seigakuin University in Japan, who had come to learn about Ohio land banks. Following our meeting, I wrote a blog post on his plans to apply research on Ohio land bank models in Japan. While working on these projects, I also created one-page documents that briefly describe GOPC’s areas of work. Because I really enjoyed this design work, I created an updated GOPC press release banner. I also found out that I thoroughly enjoyed working on spreadsheets when I was involved with two projects. For one project, I helped Alex Highley and Sheldon update Ohio newspaper contact information and the second involved helping Lindsey locate all the Brownfield locations in Ohio in order to draw up a live map.

I have learned a lot from my colleagues at GOPC and enjoyed my time working with them. They have given me so much insight on how a nonprofit organization works and tools that can be used to improve Ohio’s cities. For instance, before I came to the GOPC I had no idea what a Land Bank or Brownfield was, let alone what they can be used for. Being able to read GOPC reports and seeing the success of Ohio’s Land Banks gave me new knowledge about solutions I was not aware of.  Now knowing and understanding how to utilize these and other tools in improving the community, I feel as though I will bring an alternative outlook to policy creation and action in my future endeavors.

GOPC Staff Attends the 2016 Ohio Brownfields Conference

April 20th, 2016

By Lindsey Gardiner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Earlier this month GOPC staff attended the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 Ohio Brownfields Conference. The two day conference included beginner-friendly and advanced presentations, making the event attractive to attendees from a number of different disciplines such as environmental consultants, economic development, brownfield and other municipal officials, state government officials, developers, and various nonprofit community organizations.

The Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Fund Program was one of the headlining topics during the keynote portion on the first day. GOPC played an instrumental role during the creation of the program nearly one year ago. The program was designed to offer funding for the cleanup and remediation of abandoned gas stations and enable environmentally safe and productive reuse of the sites. The program was established in conjunction with the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA), the Ohio EPA, and the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulations (BUSTR). For more information on the Abandoned Gas Stations Cleanup Program, please visit here

Brownfields Conf

Photo by Ohio EPA

The presentations throughout the conference offered creative ways to take the problem of brownfields, and utilize them so they are part of the solution for Ohio communities. Some solutions include building green infrastructure on contaminated sites to tackle combined sewer overflows in urban areas, or turning contaminated materials into value-added engineered materials. It is clear that leaders in the brownfield industry see these contaminated sites as opportunities for growth. Presentations from out-of-state industry leaders offered a valuable education to attendees about what has worked for their state, and how their rules and regulations compare to Ohio’s. GOPC looks forward to incorporating information gained from the Ohio EPA’s 2016 Brownfields Conference to create more opportunities for brownfield remediation in Ohio.

Rising Rent in Ohio Cities Highlights Need for Affordable Housing

April 4th, 2016

By Sheldon Johnson, Urban Revitalization Project Specialist

According to a recent study released by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, there has been an unprecedented surge in rental housing in the US. In 2005 there were approximately 34 million families and individuals living in rental housing; by mid-2015 there were approximately 43 million. The increase of nearly 9 million rental households from 2005 to 2015 is the largest gain of any 10-year period on record.

This historic increase of rental households nation-wide has been coupled with rising rent as the share of households who experienced a rise in rent grew from 31% to 37%, which is the highest level since the mid-1960s. Of the 43 million families and individuals who rent, 1 in 5 are considered to be cost-burdened, meaning they pay between 31 and 50% of their income on rent. Additionally the number of severely cost-burdened renters, who pay more than 50% of their income on rent, increased from 7.5 million to 11.4 million from 2005 to 2015.

Ohio cities have not been immune to this nationwide trend. According to CBRE, a Cincinnati based commercial real estate firm, rent adjusted for inflation rose 7% in Greater Cincinnati from 2009 to 2015. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) estimated that nearly 34% of the population in Greater Cincinnati are renters. While renters of all kinds are affected by increasing rent, low-income renters are most adversely affected.

Cleveland and Dayton 052

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies reported that 44% of Cincinnati renters are cost-burdened and 24% are severely cost-burdened. An NLIHC study found that an individual working at the state’s minimum wage of $8.10 an hour would need to work 44 hours a week to afford a modest studio apartment at fair market rent in Cincinnati. They would need to work 55 hours for a one bedroom apartment, 73 for a two bedroom, and 101 for a three bedroom.

Low-income renters in other areas of Ohio also face difficulties paying for rent. The Urban Institute reports that Franklin County has 24 affordable housing units for every 100 extremely low-income (ELI) households— defined as a family of four making less than $20,000 a year. Columbus has more than 59,000 extremely low-income families, but only 14,000 available units they can afford.

It is clear that housing affordability is an issue that will be critical to the redevelopment of Ohio cities. Greater Ohio Policy Center is engaged in emerging conversations in local communities and statewide regarding potential solutions.

 

GOPC Releases Memos Recommending Strategies to Reform Ohio’s Transportation Policy

March 15th, 2016

GOPC is a leading advocate for policy reforms that will support a diverse and modernized transportation system in Ohio.  To support GOPC’s most recent policy recommendations, GOPC has published a series of research memos that:

  • Analyze Pennsylvania’s 2013 comprehensive budget reform and identifies strategies that Ohio could replicate.  Undertaking a similar reform in Ohio could produce more resources and recalibrated funding to better fund all transportation modes, especially public transportation.
  • Outline the benefits of “flexing” $30 million of Ohio’s federal dollars to public transportation.  Ohio is the 7th most populous state in the country yet ranks 38th in state support of public transportation.  The allocation of existing federal funds to transit could support 370 new rural transit vans or 107 new full size buses per year.  Ohio currently has 275 rural vehicles and 900 urban buses beyond their useful life and 22 rural counties without any transit service.
  • Discuss the benefits of raising the state motor fuel tax, indexing it to inflation and removing, through statewide ballot, the constitutional provisions that restricts the gas tax’s use to highways.  By the Ohio constitution, the state’s gas tax can only be used for highway construction and repairs.  While increasing the gas tax is not a complete  solution, it is a longstanding resource that will remain so for Ohio.

To attract and retain businesses and residents, states across the country are investing in diverse, modern transportation systems that support all modes.  Ohio has a geographic advantage of being within 600 miles of over half of the U.S. and Canadian populations.  To leveraging this prime position, Ohio must invest in transit, bike/ped, rail, deep water ports, airports and highways. GOPC’s memos outline strategies to support and enhance all the modes that make up Ohio’s transportation system.

Click here to for more information and to access the memos.

Connecting Neighborhood Revitalization to “Green” Water Infrastructure

March 10th, 2016

By Colleen Durfee, GOPC Research Intern

Stormwater runoff and Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are primary concerns of Ohio’s industrial legacy cities. In the midwest, we have long depended upon natural water sources for city and metro water needs but severe weather patterns, decades of unsustainable development, aging infrastructure, and fluctuating populations damage natural hydrological systems by allowing human produced bypass and overflow to enter them without being treated. Because of this, many municipalities are faced with needing to upgrade sewer and stormwater infrastructure. Whether mandated by the EPA or adopted independently, stormwater and sewer infrastructure upgrades are extremely expensive. However, municipalities are finding incorporating green infrastructure allows them to cut costs while meeting desired stormwater and CSO capture. Green stormwater and CSO infrastructure often require making more porous surfaces, meaning the land can act as a sponge and absorb the first inch or so of water during a storm rather than flowing on impervious surfaces until reaching a sewer system that overflows into rivers, streams, and lakes. In legacy cities where population and income decline leave abandoned and vacant land in their wake, we find an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Click Here to Read Part I of GOPC’s Infrastructure and Brownfields Needs Assessment!

Repurposing vacant land for green infrastructure can also revitalize neighborhoods, attract populations, stimulate economic activity, and increase incomes and property values. In cities with brownfields and abandoned property, green infrastructure is a welcome alternative to letting the space remain unusable. Buffalo, NY is addressing the problem of population shrinkage by using abandoned and vacant land to “right-size”, incorporating green infrastructure into its urban core. In Ohio, Youngstown adopted a shrinking city policy as part of their comprehensive land-use plan, allowing them to incorporate porous surfaces and act as a location for wetland creation, fulfilling a need for companies to create wetlands under the wetland banking regulations. Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati, are using abandoned lots for green infrastructure like rain gardens and storm basins as part of their overflow control plan.

Repurposing condemned and abandoned properties beautifies neighborhoods, decreases crime, enhances health, reduces urban heat index, and has long-term economic benefits. For municipalities riddled with abandoned properties –remnants of mid-twentieth century hay-day – opportunities to “right-size” while positively affecting stormwater runoff issues should be seized upon. Green infrastructure is not only cost effective but also efficient and adds benefits to the human experience, environment, and health far beyond fiscal viability. In the long term, green infrastructure upgrades will not only provide stormwater runoff and CSO benefits but create resilient and long-lasting communities that house more permanent residents, leading to economic, human, and environmental health.

Ohio Landbanks – An International Model

February 29th, 2016

By Addie DesRoches, GOPC Intern         

In 2008, when Ohio was just starting to experiment with land banks, there wasn’t a guarantee that benefits would come from the innovative idea.  Now eight years later, Ohio is being used as a national and international model.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Nobuhisa Taira of Seigakuin University of Japan to discuss the opportunity of creating land banks in rural and urban areas of Japan.  Nationally, Japan’s vacancy rate is 10% to 15%, which is par with Ohio’s (which is about 11%).

Dr. Taira informed us about the multiple issues Japanese communities face with vacancy.  They often run into temporary vacancy because the owners are using the property for specific storage space or they are hospitalized.  This is a difficult issue because someone has ownership of the space but it is not their priority to take care of the property.  Ohio has similar issues, but Japan has implemented a system that allows them to track the owner or presiding decision-maker of the property.  Unfortunately Ohio does not have a statewide system that tracks property ownership.

Glue Cleveland Tour 122

Another example Dr. Taira stated is that every time a snowstorm hits a new vacant property, there is the potential for it to become a blighted property.  Another specific case is in a row house situation.  The houses are protected under historic preservation designations, but when a property in the middle of the structure becomes blighted, it affects the structure as a whole.  This not only causes property and revenue loss but the loss of the historical protection as well.  With the creation of land banks, land banks could work to take control of the problem property to then make improvements or prevent blight from occurring.  Additionally, a land bank could return the property to a desirable state for people and preserve the historical features.

GOPC is excited to see what advances come in Japan from Dr. Taira’s visit.  We are wishing him the best and hope he enjoyed his time in Ohio while gaining insight into some of the most efficient land banks in the nation.

The First Step to Revitalization

February 18th, 2016

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Graduate Intern

This week, GOPC released a study called the62.4 Reporton urban health and competitiveness in Akron. The report, whose title refers to the city’s square mileage, realistically acknowledges that the city is facing challenges, but also finds that Akron is in a strong position to deal with them. GOPC’s work on small- and medium-sized legacy cities nationwide has found that for many cities, the first step of recovery and revitalization is understanding and accepting their current situation. This may have been more challenging for Akron, because unlike many of its peers, it has not had a clear moment of hitting “rock bottom” when a major economic sector completely left town. Instead, change in Akron has been slower, with a steady stream of residents and businesses leaving the central city for the suburbs and a more gradual shift from a manufacturing-based to service-based economy. Without a major crisis, the alarm bells never rang, even though conditions in the city were declining.

Downtown overhead

Akron, Ohio

Fortunately, many stakeholders in Akron are willing to take a hard look at where Akron is now to plan for where the city can be. Kyle Kutuchief, program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – which grew out of Akron and funded the study, compares the report to diagnostic testing required when going to the doctor. Once the city knows what is wrong, it can start making a plan for getting better.

Akronites are excited about making that plan. GOPC Executive Director Lavea Brachman and Graduate Intern Torey Hollingsworth travelled to Akron this week to present the report’s findings. At meetings with stakeholders, they had productive conversations about what the city could do to reposition itself as a vibrant, competitive city where people want to live and work. Despite the sobering data, there was clear energy about Akron’s future and resolve to do what it takes to get the city there. Now that the city has taken the tough first step of finding out what needs to change, Akron is even better positioned for recovery. 

Go here to read the report!

GOPC Partner Preservation Rightsizing Network Releases Action Agenda

February 11th, 2016

The Greater Ohio Policy Center has been a long time contributor to and supporter of the Preservation Rightsizing Network (PRN).  PRN works in legacy cities to preserve local heritage and revitalize the built environment, bring market sensitive tools and solutions that leverage historic preservation for urban revitalization.

GOPC has long supported a holistic approach to legacy city revitalization—calling for a strategic and thoughtful mix of demolition, rehab, historic preservation and new development.  GOPC is pleased to share a video associated with the release of an Action Agenda for historic preservation in Legacy Cities.  GOPC co-sponsored the public event where the report was released and looks forward to supporting Ohio’s communities as they implement tools and policies contained in the Agenda.

Please take 5 minutes to watch this video to learn more about the Action Agenda.

Franklinton Residents Seek to Maximize Impact of Creative District Across Boundaries

February 5th, 2016

By Sheldon Johnson, Urban Revitalization Specialist

Last week a panel gathered at the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) to discuss what Columbus Business First reporter Carrie Ghose called “a great urban experiment that is playing before us now.” The experiment she is referring to is the planned redevelopment of Columbus’ oldest neighborhood, Franklinton. The event saw lively discussion from Jim Sweeney, Executive Director of Franklinton Development Association (FDA), Dana Vallangeon, CEO of Lower Lights Christian Health Center, Nick Stanich, Director of Franklinton Gardens, and Trent Smith, Executive Director of the Franklinton Board of Trade (FBOT).

Franklinton was known for many years as an area struck by floods, disinvestment, and high rates of crime. The City of Columbus began a concerted effort towards redeveloping Franklinton in 2011 when then-Mayor Michael B. Coleman announced a partnership between the City of Columbus, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, a private developer called the Urban Growth Company, and the Franklinton Development Association (FDA) in his annual State of the City Address. Together these four partners sought to “market, incentivize, and build an affordable neighborhood tailored for live-work housing, for our city’s creative sector.” Mayor Coleman defined the creative sector as artists, designers, performers, media professionals, architects, engineers, techies, and marketers. In November 2012 the Columbus City Council adopted the East Franklinton Creative Community District Plan in order to direct the development of this affordable neighborhood for Columbus’ creative sector.

Nearly five years since Mayor Coleman announced his Franklinton plan, the neighborhood has seen the establishment of breweries, the Columbus Idea Foundry, bars, co-working spaces, and coffee shops. During her introduction to the CMC event, Laquore Meadows called Franklinton “the center of cool,” but reminded attendees that Franklinton was home to longtime residents prior to the influx of the creative sector. Can the new dawn of Franklinton be a rising tide to lift all boats? This question was at the forefront of the discussion among the three panelists at the CMC event. In response to a question about what additional investments should come to Franklinton, Stanich pointed out that the strong focus of economic activity pouring into the new creative district located east of State Route 315 was distinct from the largely residential area located west of the highway.

Vallangeon stated that the economic development occurring on the eastside of Franklinton presents an opportunity for more interest and good energy to be carried forward to the west side of the neighborhood. Smith expressed hope that events like the CMC panel will convince potential residents and business that the Real Franklinton is a great neighborhood to be in. Targeting resources in select areas in order to maximize impact is a key revitalization strategy that several Greater Ohio Policy Center partners are currently undertaking. The creation of intentional revitalization plans is key to the regeneration of many of Ohio’s urban areas.

GOPC’s 2015 Accomplishments & A Look Ahead

December 15th, 2015

Dec Newsletter Photo

Pictured from left: Alison Goebel, Lindsey Gardiner, Lavea Brachman, Meg Montgomery, Torey Hollingsworth, Sheldon Johnson, and Alex Highley.

2015 has been an eventful year around Ohio and has been filled with achievement and promise for GOPC. As a leader in championing revitalization and sustainable growth, GOPC has accomplished a lot in the past year, including:

Led Dialogue on Revitalization and Sustainable Regrowth in Ohio

  • Summit on Restoring Neighborhoods, Strengthening Economiesthat brought together national experts, state policymakers, and local leaders to recognize outstanding leadership and practices in revitalizing Ohio’s cities and to discuss new strategies to sharpen the state’s economic edge.
  • Roundtable on Rebuilding Neighborhood Markets to further GOPC’s effort to connect small business growth to areas with commercial vacant properties. The Neighborhood Development Center in St. Paul, MN and ProsperUS in Detroit, MI presented their successful models for property reuse.
  • Participated in over 15 events as speakers, panelists, or moderators

Successfully Influenced State Policy

  • Advanced Two Reforms for a Diversified Transportation System. GOPC is working with leading planning organizations—as well as other regional leaders—to develop and advance policies to support additional funding for public transit systems and multi-modal options throughout the state, as well as investment in existing infrastructure.
  • Helped Create Service Stations Cleanup Fund Program. GOPC offered interested party testimony to the Senate Finance Workforce Subcommittee on the Service Station Cleanup Fund. GOPC supported the creation of this program because it leverages initial investment for future economic development.

Published Original Research

  • Assessed Current State of Land Banking in Ohio. In May, GOPC released Taking Stock of Ohio County Land Banks: Current Practices and Promising Strategies , which analyzes how land banks operate in the larger context of community revitalization. The report highlights promising county land bank programs that have the potential to greatly contribute to sustainable economic and community redevelopment throughout Ohio.
  • Identified Challenges and Initial Solutions for Water & Sewer Infrastructure Improvements. With support from the Ohio Water Development Authority, GOPC recently released an Assessment of Needs for redeveloping sewer and water infrastructure to identify innovative financing options to assist communities with infrastructure modernization. GOPC is working with financing experts and MORPC and will release its Phase II recommendations in late 2016.
  • Financing in Opportunity Neighborhoods Report. This report analyzes neighborhoods in Ohio that are showing signs of stability but struggle to attract traditional financing because of credit gaps and other challenges. In this report, GOPC outlines potential interventions and innovative financing tools and strategies that can stabilize the housing market in these neighborhoods.

Provided Education and Strategic Assistance to Ohio’s Communities

  • Strategic Advice on the Formation of a Youngstown Center City Organization. GOPC is working the Wean Foundation and local partners to develop a process for creating a Youngstown Center City Organization. The YCCO will catalyze and coordinate economic development and community investment in Youngstown’s Central Business District and adjacent areas.
  • Commercial Vacant Property Redevelopment Webinars. GOPC partnered with the Ohio CDC Association to present four webinars as a “how to” for local leaders of legacy cities faced with commercial vacancies. Topics for the webinars included redevelopment planning, identifying successful tools and strategies, and overcoming financial gaps.
  • Continued Outreach to Practitioners and Leaders in Ohio’s Cities.  GOPC met regularly with leaders throughout the state around needed revitalization policies and policy reforms that will assist with neighborhood regeneration and sustainable redevelopment.

Coming in 2016…

In 2016, GOPC will continue working to ensure Ohio has robust, effective policies and practices that create revitalized communities, strengthen regional cooperation, and preserve Ohio’s green space by reducing sprawl. With partners from around the state and nation, GOPC will continue to investigate creative financing approaches to infrastructure improvements and neighborhood revitalization; advocate for a diversified transportation system, and support communities as they invest in themselves and their futures.

We believe GOPC offers strong leadership and unique skills to address critical issues and to ensure a prosperous future for the people of Ohio. And others agree; check out the New Video illustrating GOPC’s role in vital areas!