Mid-Sized Cities with Declining Populations Face Water Infrastructure Dilemma

October 31st, 2016

By John Collier, GOPC Research & Conference Support Intern, and Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

The United States Government Accountability Office recently released a report on the water infrastructure dilemma occurring in the United States’ mid-sized and large cities with declining population.  GAO’s analysis was requested by Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY), to understand the unique challenges these cities face in repairing and replacing water and sewer infrastructure.   The GAO noted that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) surveys of water utilities estimate that over 20 years, $655 billion will have to be spent to maintain, replace, or upgrade the country’s water infrastructure.

GAO interviewed water and wastewater utility officials in 10 cities in the Midwest and Northeast, including Youngstown, Ohio, that experienced large population declines between 1980 and 2010.  Youngstown lost 42% of its population over this time frame.  GAO acknowledged that mid-sized to larger cities with declining populations are generally more economically distressed, and suffer from higher unemployment, higher poverty rates, and lower median incomes. These cities, whose peak population typically was in the 1950s and 1960s, suffer from decreased revenue and increased costs. The characteristics of these legacy cities put them in a unique financial bind.

Nearly all the cities in the report expressed concerns over their ability to control combined sewer overflows. Outdated infrastructure in these legacy cities needs updated, but their financial situation makes this difficult.  All the selected cities in the report have raised utility rates in an effort to raise more revenue, but this results in affordability problems for low-income households.  Low-income households in Youngstown now pay over 8% of their median income for their water and sewer bills on a combined basis, well above EPA guidelines for affordability of 3%.  Although Youngstown and other cities have established payment plans to make utility access affordable for lower-income households, it does not discount bills for low-income households, and the prospect of future rate increases will continue to make affordability difficult. 

One of the interesting findings from the report was that the utilities in the study are adopting asset management plans, but it is very difficult to downsize or “rightsize” their infrastructure despite large areas of vacant housing or vacant land.  Asset management refers to creating a comprehensive inventory of the utility assets and their condition, and integrating this data with maintenance and capital planning.  The utilities noted that downsizing was difficult because they still had to service a few houses in each block, or maintain lines through vacant areas in order to reach neighborhoods farther away.  This response illustrates how difficult it is to separate infrastructure planning from overall land use planning. 

Greater Ohio Policy Center considers the modernization of Ohio’s water infrastructure a critical issue. GOPC has conducted an assessment of the issues Ohio’s legacy cities face, and the need for additional mechanisms, such as green infrastructure as an alternative stormwater management tool.  We believe that asset management and regional consolidation are key outcomes that could be accelerated with additional state incentives.     

More information about water infrastructure and links to GOPC’s reports can be found Here.

 

GOPC Staff Speaks at MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment

October 25th, 2016

By Jon Honeck, Ph.D., GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Overview

On Friday, October 21, I had the privilege of being a panelist at the MORPC Summit on Sustainability and the Environment, held at the Columbus Hilton Downtown.  The panel’s title was “Looking Ahead, What Are the Important Sustainability Policy Issues?”  The other panelists included Kent Scarrett of the Ohio Municipal League, Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council, and Holly Nagle of the Columbus Chamber.  Panelists were asked to speak about upcoming issues in the lame duck state legislative session and the 2017 state budget process.  In the short run, panelists agreed that Ohio’s renewable portfolio energy standards are likely to be a top priority of the General Assembly when it returns after the 2016 election.  For the 2017 budget process, I focused my presentation on transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, brownfield remediation, and application of public nuisance statutes to commercial and industrial property. 

Transportation

GOPC is trying to improve state funding for public transit and advocate that the state make progress in an “active transportation” strategy that makes roadways safe for all users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.   The Ohio Department of Transportation budget is considered separately from the state main operating budget bill.  The budget scenario for public transit funding is difficult.   Currently the state only provides about 3 percent of overall public transit funding, with local and federal funds providing the largest shares.  On a per capita basis, Ohio ranks 38th highest in the nation in its support for public transit.  GOPC has proposed some ways to provide dedicated funding from the state, but progress is complicated by the need to replace Ohio’s Medicaid managed care sales tax.  Seven local transit authorities rely on a local sales tax and collectively they received $33.6 million from the sales tax on Medicaid premiums. If this funding goes away without a replacement, significant service cuts will result.

Water and Sewer

Many cities across the state are facing a dual challenge of upgrading aging infrastructure and complying with EPA regulations to fix combined sewer overflows that lead to raw sewage being discharged into waterways during major storms.   Over the next 20 years, the EPA estimates that Ohio utilities will need $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades and $12.1 billion for drinking water infrastructure.  GOPC’s analysis of the problems facing Ohio legacy cities and the need for additional funding can be found here.  These estimates do not include any potential costs of lead service line replacement that may be needed in the wake of public reaction to the situation in Flint, MI.  Under Ohio House Bill 512, Ohio utilities must complete a map of all lead service water supply lines by March, 2017, a date that is in the midst of the state budget process.  The availability of this information may influence public opinion.   

With the Kasich Administration proposing its final budget, sustainability issues will have to hold their own against education, taxation, criminal justice, and other high profile issues.  GOPC will ensure that advocates are informed and can make the case for sustainability during the budget process.  For more information, please sign up for our email updates. 

 

Developing Safe and Effective Urban Transportation through Alternative Planning Strategies

October 21st, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Implementing creative road planning standards can help Ohio’s local leaders who seek to build neighborhoods where travel by car, bus, bicycle, or foot is safe for everyone. In order to maximize the public’s benefit in using streets and sidewalks, cities around Ohio, the country, and the world have begun to reduce the width of street lanes and lower speed limits to improve safety for all roadway users.

Adjusting the width of street lanes creates room to introduce various modes of transportation or other amenities in that particular space.  For instance,  reducing each lane of a 4-lane road from 12 feet to 10 feet creates an extra 8 feet in width, which cities have converted into a dedicated bike lane or sidewalk protected by a buffer zone. Some cities have chosen to cut down lane space in order to create a row for parked cars, especially in retail and entertainment districts.

Research shows that narrower lanes are no more dangerous than wide roads, and in many cases are actually safer for drivers, bikers and walkers. With narrower roads, drivers are forced to be more mindful of the relative position of their car on the road and potential obstacles and are therefore more cautious while driving. Moreover, by reducing road lane width, cities are able lessen the distance pedestrians and bikers must travel to cross the street, which shrinks their risk of being struck by a vehicle. Such a change in traffic design and the added safety features are likely to encourage more people to choose to walk or bike as a result of feeling more secure when travelling on or near the road.

It is important to note that traffic engineers widely recognize the safe usage of 10-foot wide roads in areas where the speed limit does not exceed 35 miles per hour. In Ohio’s urban areas, most city roads operate with 35 miles per hour limits or less and could accommodate this change. Because not all drivers travel at the posted speed limit, traffic engineers design roads so that they still accommodate motorists travelling a few miles an hour over the speed limit.

In situations where road lane size cannot be reduced (due to other infrastructure considerations, financial constraints or political will), lowering speed limits can reduce the risk of injury or death for all users of the road; a 10 mph reduction in travelling speed is shown to have a significant effect on reducing the seriousness of a pedestrian’s sustained injury after having been hit by a vehicle. In Ohio, the Revised Code dictates the speed limit for a number of road types, including those that run through municipalities.  Many of main “in-town” arteries that connect a community have posted speed limits of 35 mph, even as these arteries become used by more and more bicyclists, transit users, and pedestrians. 

GOPC supports policies that enable communities to make their roadways safer for all users.  Giving communities more local control over posted speed limits and instituting Active Transportation policies that support and promote multimodal usage, results in safer streets, has minimal impact on the flow of cars, and often increases economic activity along the modified route. Learn more here about GOPC’s research and advocacy on this important issue!

 

Don’t Miss GOPC’s Upcoming Webinar on Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities

October 12th, 2016

In conjunction with the Ohio CDC Association, GOPC will co-host a Webinar on October 27th, 2016 from 10:00-11:30am that will examine how smaller legacy cities, from Akron to Zanesville, have fared over the last 15 years. GOPC will share best practices that smaller legacy cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast used to jumpstart revitalization and that community development practitioners can catalyze and implement.

GOPC recently presented on its latest work on small and mid-sized legacy cities at the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Baltimore. To learn more about this, please check out our October 2016 Newsletter.

 

We hope you join us for the Webinar on October 27th – click here to sign up!

 

Ohio CDC

 

 

GOPC Joins 1,000 Change Makers from Across the Country at the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Baltimore

October 10th, 2016

By Sheldon K. Johnson, GOPC Project Manager

Last week, Greater Ohio Policy Center staff and Board of Trustee members attended the Reclaiming Vacant Properties (RVP) Conference hosted by the Center for Community Progress. The theme of the conference was “In Service of People and Place” and aimed to take a deep look at how innovative reuse of vacant properties can improve the well-being of residents and the communities where they live.

GOPC had the opportunity to learn from local case studies and best practices from around the country that will inform our work of championing revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio. We also were able to share our expertise with conference attendees. Board of Trustee member Ian Beniston, Executive Director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC), sat on a panel about Community-Based Stabilization Efforts. He shared details about how YNDC organizes Neighborhood Action Teams to engage volunteers for vacant property clean ups.

GOPC’s former Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, spoke on a panel focused on creating state policy change to support innovative solutions to fighting blight. Brachman also joined current GOPC staff member Torey Hollingsworth to host a presentation and discussion on the report they co-authored about revitalizing small and mid-sized legacy cities. Representatives from several cities included in the study attended the presentation. Check out GOPC’s upcoming October newsletter for a more detailed summary of Hollingsworth and Brachman’s presentation. You can find the newsletter here.

In addition to a variety of informative panel sessions the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference also included several engaging plenary sessions. The second day of the conference opened with a breakfast keynote address by Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI). Rep. Kildee addressed the conference the day after Congress voted to provide $170 million in aid to address the Flint water crisis. Kildee, a Flint native, used his remarks to highlight the importance of water and sewer system upgrades (a key issue that GOPC focuses on in Ohio). He also discussed how landbanking and infrastructure investments are key to community revitalization.

dan kildee - ccp

Dan Kildee - Photo Credit: Center for Community Progress

The RVP conference closed with a keynote address from Dr. Matthew Desmond, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and author of the bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Desmond summarized the ethnographic study of low income renters and landlords in Milwaukee, WI that he wrote about in Evicted. He focused largely on the story of Arleen Beale and her two sons as they struggled to stay in safe and affordable housing. Desmond argued that Arleen’s story is representative of many people’s, and that concrete solutions for increasing affordable housing are needed.

matthew desmond - ccp

Matthew Desmond - Photo Credit: Center for Community Progress

The Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference was a great opportunity for GOPC to connect with partners doing similar work across the country and to reinforce the importance of our work. Attending conferences like these empowers our staff to be better prepared to continue advocating for and building a Greater Ohio!

 

Glenn College Forum Highlights Improvements Necessary to Sustain Water, Transportation Infrastructure

September 26th, 2016

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

This month, GOPC was pleased to join with our colleagues at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) as a part of a panel discussion at the Glenn College Leadership Forum at The Ohio State University. The panel, Keeping Things Flowing: Water and Transportation Needs in the 21st Century, focused on the growing concern about infrastructure deterioration in the state and addressed ways in which local and state governments can identity and implement innovative strategies to take on these twin crises head-on.

Jon Honeck, Ph.D., Senior Policy Fellow with GOPC, presented on Ohio’s Water and Sewer infrastructure needs, with special focus on a growing issue that often is overlooked when considering this critical utility service, stormwater infrastructure. Most of Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure was installed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and especially in major metropolitan downtown areas, the systems have not been updated to meet the needs of growing populations and demands of the 21st Century. This is especially true of stormwater systems. With some studies suggesting that rain events are now producing more precipitation than they did even 20 to 30 years earlier, aging sewer systems that combine wastewater and stormwater are often overwhelmed, resulting in releases of raw sewage from aging systems into rivers and streams.

JH Glenn College3

Photo Credit: John Glenn College of Public Affairs

Estimates show that Ohio needs $14.1 billion for wastewater treatment upgrades alone between 2012 and 2032, in addition to another $12.1 billion for upgrades and replacing to the state’s drinking water systems over 20 years. That is a total of $26.2 billion in infrastructure needs in just 20 years, and that does not include costs to identify and replace lead pipes, which service an estimated 650,000 homes and businesses in the state.

Coming up with the necessary funding to upgrade this aging infrastructure is complicated by the elimination of federal grants for water and sewer systems in the 1980’s. The feds now provide revolving loans to local governments to assist in system repairs and upgrades, but local communities facing economic problems must repay the loans over time, which is an challenge many small communities in the state cannot afford.  

Among the potential solutions that could help to mitigate this future crisis that Honeck discussed during the forum include new financial tools which could provide either credit enhancements or loan guarantees for small communities that lack necessary funding resources, regionalization of water systems that encourages smaller communities to band together and pool limited resources to better afford work which needs to be done, public-private partnerships, and increased state funding in revolving loan funds and grant programs. 

Thea Walsh, the Director of Transportation Systems and Funding at MORPC, next provided an overview of Ohio’s transportation infrastructure and the needs it faces in order to maintain the state’s competitive edge.  Ohio’s interstate highway system is the 12th largest in the nation, and ranks 5th in overall traffic volume and 4th in truck traffic volume. Ohio boasts the 2nd largest inventory of bridges in the nation.  Beyond roadways, Ohio also ranks 4th nationally in freight rail mileage, hosting 35 freight railroads and 5,305 miles of rail.

Despite these impressive statistics, the American Society of Civil Engineers has graded Ohio’s 125,000 plus miles of roads a ‘D’, finding that 43% of Ohio’s roadways are in critical, poor, or fair condition. Of greater concern is a finding that 2,242 of the state’s 27,015 bridges (8% of total bridges), are structurally deficient. The overall cost to motorists in the state, the personal cost of driving on roads in need of repair, is $3.3 billion per year, which amounts to $413 per motorist.

Ohio receives a significant portion of its overall transportation funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which constitutes 45.1% of the Ohio Department of Transportation Revenue (FY12-14), while 32.9% is generated from the state motor fuel tax. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is supported from the federal gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline. That rate has remained unchanged since 1993. The state motor fuel tax is 28 cents per gallon of gasoline, and has remained unchanged since 2005. Moreover, because of constitutional limitations, this fuel tax revenue may only be used for highway construction, which precludes its usage toward public transportation projects. GOPC is constantly seeking ways of funding and modernizing all modes of transportation, including transit, biking, and walking.

Because the Federal Highway Administration has estimated that $170 billion in capital investment is needed annually to improve only roadways nationwide, it will be necessary in the future to increase revenue in order to make the required improvements. This will likely include raising fuel taxes, but also involve alternative sources of revenue as automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient and more vehicles that run on alternative sources (hybrid, electric) are operating on roadways.

One alternative that was discussed is a pilot program underway in the state of Oregon where individuals have volunteered to have tracking devices installed in their vehicles to track the number of miles they are traveling, and then paying per-mile fees to help fund highway and road construction and improvement. Other alternatives include the construction of new tolled infrastructure, an alternative that has been discussed to fund improvements on the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati (Ohio has approved the toll bridge, Kentucky has not) and public private partnerships.

It was clear from the discussion that difficult decisions will need to be made in the months and years ahead. Investment in the state’s critical infrastructure, including drinking water, stormwater, and transportation, is necessary for two reasons. First, it is of paramount importance to ensure public health and safety. Without improvement to the state’s water systems, Ohio runs the risk of seeing repeats of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan caused by lead contamination in the city’s water system, or the tragic failing of critical infrastructure such as the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis several years ago. Secondly, these systems are of critical importance to our state’s economy. Ohio is at the center of the nation’s economic livelihood, located within a day’s drive of 50 percent of the country’s population, with tens of thousands of jobs tied to transportation, manufacturing, and logistics. Investment in quality water and transportation systems will ensure Ohio’s economic stability in the years ahead.

 

View the PowerPoint presentation here

 

Remaking Cities After Abandonment Lecture Emphasizes Role of Community Efforts

September 16th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

This past Wednesday, the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University hosted a lecture by Margaret Dewar, a University of Michigan professor teaching at the Taubman College of Architecture. Dewar focuses her research on economic development, housing, and urban planning and she investigates the ways planners seek to ameliorate population and employment loss. During the lecture, Dewar outlined three main questions that she seeks to answer as part of her research:

  • What does a city become after abandonment?
  • What makes a difference in what a city becomes after abandonment?
  • What should a city become after abandonment?

The theme of Dewar’s research findings is that even in the cases of extraordinary shock marked by the collapse of government and a plunge in housing values, social groups and institutions make significant strides in community building. According to Dewar, this concept is important to understand given that prior research had only concluded that community efforts could produce smaller-scale change, such as inducing a decrease in crime.

Dewar lamented that during the mortgage foreclosure crisis in Detroit during the last decade, local leadership demonstrated little in the way of support for citizen resilience. Instead of imploring citizens to stay in their homes and rebuild their communities in the midst of a widespread crisis, the previous Detroit mayor tried to clear people out of their houses because city services were so insufficient. In Dewar’s view, these services should have been restructured so that people would have more incentive to remain and persevere in rebuilding their neighborhoods. For instance, citizens could have found creative ways to combine their garbage each week in order to have more efficient garbage collection services when cuts needed to be made.

Dewar highlighted the need for governments to prioritize community development corporations (CDCs) when seeking to rebuild neighborhoods that have suffered from recent abandonment. GOPC partners with CDC associations around Ohio and likewise recognizes the important work they contribute to community investment and redevelopment. Dewar also stressed the cost savings that cities can benefit through transitioning to green stormwater infrastructure. GOPC is constantly researching and discovering new ways for local governments to finance and modernize their sewer and water infrastructure.

DetroitSkyline wikicommons Cropped

Detroit, Michigan. Source: Wikicommons

 

Check out GOPC’s Partner Conferences this Fall!

September 2nd, 2016

GOPC’s partners are hosting exciting conferences this fall. These conferences will examine different facets of community revitalization and strategies for stabilizing and rebuilding our communities.  Additionally, GOPC and long-time partner, Ohio CDC Association will be co-hosting a webinar in October. Check out the descriptions below and click on the links to register!

The Dialogue in Detroit Conference will go from September 13 to 16, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. This Conference will bring together professionals, decision-makers and academics from America’s Legacy Cities, where long-term population loss and economic restructuring present difficult challenges for the future of astounding historic resources and significant cultural heritage.  This Conference is sponsored by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Wayne State University. This conference is a follow up to one at which GOPC keynoted in Cleveland in 2015.

Detroit dialogue

 

From September 28-30, 2016, The Center for Community Progress will be hosting the Reclaiming Vacant Properties (RVP) Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Themed “In Service of People and Place,” the seventh RVP will take a deep look at how work to reclaim vacant properties can improve the wellbeing of residents and the places they call home.  Former GOPC Executive Director, Lavea Brachman will be speaking on the Creating State Policy Change to Support Blight-Fighting Innovation panel and GOPC will be leading a small group workshop on small and medium sized legacy cities.

CCP

 

The Ohio CDC Association will be hosting the Passion for Progress Conference October 13-14, 2016. Taking place in Athens, Ohio, this annual conference will showcase the revitalization occurring throughout the region. GOPC will be attending and learning the latest and greatest in the community development field.

CDC Association

 

Finally, GOPC and Ohio CDC Association will co-host a Webinar on October 27, 2016 from 10:00-11:30am. This webinar will explore the findings of a recent report by Greater Ohio Policy Center that examined how smaller legacy cities, from Akron to Zanesville, fared over the last 15 years. GOPC will share best practices that smaller legacy cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast used to jumpstart revitalization and that community development and public sector leaders can put into practice in their own communities. 

Join us on October 27th here!

 

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Publishes GOPC Article on Revitalization of Legacy Cities

June 6th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director and Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Researcher

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has published a Greater Ohio Policy Center article on the revitalization of America’s small- and medium-sized legacy cities. Beginning on page 7 of its Summer 2016 Communities and Banking magazine, the article describes several promising resilience strategies for legacy cities, based on GOPC’s data analysis. The article also highlights Case Studies from Worcester, Massachusetts; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Syracuse, New York; and Akron, Ohio of recent economic recovery practices.

Visit the Article Here

Downtown overhead

This article is part of broader research that GOPC is conducting on the health of small- and medium-sized legacy cities across the country.

To read the Article, please go Here

 

 

Ohio General Assembly Passes House Bill 512 to Reform Water Testing Procedures

June 2nd, 2016

By Jon Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Before leaving on its summer break, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 512, a major reform to Ohio’s drinking water regulations that will tighten lead notification and testing requirements, tighten the requirements for lead-free plumbing fixtures, and provide more flexibility to the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Water Development Authority to support public drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.  The bill passed with strong bipartisan support in the wake of the well-publicized crises involving lead in drinking water supplies in Flint, MI, and Sebring, OH.  The American Water Works Association estimates that there are 6.1 million lead service drinking water supply lines still in place across the nation, including many in Ohio.  With proper corrosion control methods, many of the issues with lead pipes can be avoided, although the ultimate answer is to replace these lead lines over time.  We hope that this same bipartisan spirit will carry forward into the fall and 2017 as the state grapples with important water infrastructure and water quality issues. 

Under the bill, homeowners must be notified within two business days of lead laboratory test results received by a community water system.  If the lab results show a lead level above the applicable threshold then the water system must provide information about the availability of health screening and lead blood level testing in the area to the homeowner and notify all customers that the system has exceeded acceptable lead levels within two business days, and provide information about lead testing to all customers within 5 business days.  Within 18 months of the notification of about excessive lead levels, the system must submit a revised corrosion control treatment plan to the Ohio EPA.  A revised corrosion control plan requirement is also triggered if a system changes sources of water supply, makes substantial changes to treatment, or operates outside the limits for certain metals or chemicals. Each water system is also required to map parts of its service area that are likely to contain lead lines.

Many Ohio cities are engaged in multi-year capital projects to fix combined sewer overflows and replacing aging water infrastructure.  The Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, which is controlled by the Ohio EPA, provided over $700 million in revolving loans in 2015 for these purposes.  The Fund receives an annual capitalization grant from the U.S. EPA so it can provide below-market interest rates to projects that are a high priority for the state and local partners. House Bill 512 broadened the scope of the WPCLF’s authority to match recent changes in federal law.  New funding purposes include energy conservation and efficiency at wastewater treatment plants (which use enormous amounts of electric power), watershed management, recapture or treatment of stormwater, and decentralized sewer systems to assist smaller, more isolated rural areas.  In addition, loan terms for the WPCLF are increased from 20 to 30 years, making them more affordable for borrowers.  These changes make it easier to develop creative approaches to managing the water treatment system. 

As Greater Ohio pointed out in Phase I of its ongoing infrastructure project, the state’s needs are vast and the financial capacity of many water utilities is stretched to its limit.  We will make further policy recommendations on this point in 2016.