The Ohio Land Bank Conference

September 15th, 2014

By Nicholas J. Blaine, Project Coordinator

Last week, on September 11, I attended the Thriving Communities Institute’s 4th annual Ohio Land Bank Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The event brought together experts in the field to discuss best practices and share successes from Ohio’s 22 land banks. As a new staffer for GOPC, I saw the event as a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the role of land banks in building a sustainable Ohio.

TCI-14-conf

The morning began with remarks from Jim Rokakis, Vice President of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and Director of its Thriving Communities Institute. The conference covered a wide range of topics, from the basics of vacant property management to how hemp can be used to promote sustainable growth. Read the rest of this entry »

Ohio Attorney General DeWine files lawsuit as part of Operation Mis-Modification

July 28th, 2014

By Alison Goebel, Associate Director

On July 23, 2014, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine joined fourteen other state Attorneys general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in filing lawsuits against “foreclosure relief scammers.” Ohio’s lawsuit, filed against a Chicago Company, is one of forty-one companion lawsuits against a total of nine individuals or companies. The lawsuits are being dubbed “Operation Mis-Modification.”

The Plaintiffs allege these companies misrepresented their services or failed to perform services for consumers who were facing foreclosure and seeking assistance, such as loan modifications. According to the Operation Mis-Modification lawsuits, many of the defendants allegedly took advance payments in excess of allowable limits and/or received payment for services never rendered.

If Ohio’s lawsuit is successful, impact consumers may see restitution and the state may receive penalty fees. For Operation Mis-Modification, Ohio is joined by Attorneys general from Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Operation Mis-Modification lawsuits are not like current “bank settlements” that are in the works, such as the settlement with Bank of America. The “bank settlements” are expected to include billion-dollar agreements with lending financial institutions. These settlements could benefit consumers, or go directly to states, as did the funding that supported the Moving Ohio Forward program. As more information is released on potential future bank settlements, GOPC will be sure to update its blog and social media channels.

Brownfield Grants Revitalize Columbus

June 17th, 2014

By Raquel Jones, Intern

The Columbus City Council is expected to approve grant money from their Green Columbus Fund sometime this year to redevelop vacant properties in the city. The Green Columbus Fund is a reimbursement grant program with a budget of $1 million that uses financial incentives to encourage sustainable development and redevelopment. Private businesses and non-profits can apply for grants to either redevelop Brownfield sites or to build green in Columbus.

In 2011, Columbus City Council accredited the first four grants under this program, utilizing almost one-fourth of the entire fund. These grants were awarded to two LEED projects and brownfield assessment work at two sites.

Potential developers of two properties now under consideration for a portion of the grant money hope to be able to conduct site assessment work to see whether or not they should go forward with their idea to build apartments on the site. Also under examination by the Columbus City Council is the former location of an old shoe factory on Front Street where the developer of apartments hopes to use the brownfield grant for asbestos remediation and underground tank removal.

GOPC Presents on Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities

June 12th, 2014

Last Friday, on June 6th, GOPC Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, and Manager of Research and Communications, Marianne Eppig, traveled to Cleveland to present at the “Historic Preservation in America’s Legacy Cities” conference.

Marianne moderated a panel about strategic incrementalism (a term introduced in the Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities report) and resource targeting for the revitalization of legacy city neighborhoods. She presented as part of the panel with Alan Mallach, Senior Fellow at the Center for Community Progress, and Paula Boggs Muething, VP of Community Revitalization & General Counsel at the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. Her presentation is included below:

Click the image above to view the presentation.

Lavea was a plenary panelist with Dr. Clement Price, an expert on African American history, Councilman Jeffrey Johnson of Cleveland’s Ward 10, and Emilie Evans of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Lavea presented on an integrated approach to stabilization and holistic preservation. Her presentation is below:

Click the image above to view the presentation.

In advance of the conference, Nicholas Emenhiser, an AmeriCorps Local History Corps volunteer for the Cleveland Restoration Society who was helping to organize the conference, asked Marianne a few questions about historic preservation in legacy cities.

Read on for the Q&A:

  1. How is revitalization different in larger Legacy Cities as opposed to smaller Legacy Cities?

Whether a city is large or small, access to and availability of resources is a key factor in revitalization. Just as important, the scale of vacancy and abandonment is a determining factor. That’s why we see such different outcomes between cities even when they are similar sizes, like Pittsburgh and Detroit. For cities of all sizes, revitalization requires a strategic, targeted approach to maximize available resources. The panel I’ll be on (“Strategic Incrementalism & Resource Targeting for the Revitalization of Legacy City Neighborhoods” on Friday at 1:30pm) will discuss how to target resources effectively to revitalize legacy city neighborhoods of all sizes.

  1. What kind of scale are we talking about with vacant and abandoned properties in Ohio? Surrounding states?

At the state level, Ohio has about 13% vacancy as of the 4th quarter of 2013. Pennsylvania also has around 13% vacancy and Michigan has around 16.5% vacancy. What may be more telling for states with legacy cities, though, may be vacancy in their major metropolitan areas. I’ve included a chart below that provides vacancy rates for counties containing major legacy cities.

Vacancy at the county level for legacy cities. Data source: US Postal Service, 2013 Q4.

  1. Are there any photos that best illustrate research and/or solutions that have come out of the Greater Ohio Policy Center?

That’s a good question. Instead of photos, I would actually point you to several of Greater Ohio’s recent reports (they include lots of images and charts!): “Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities” by Alan Mallach and Lavea Brachman for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Use and Economic Revitalization,” which I wrote with Lavea Brachman and the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. These reports provide both the theory and the practical tools for revitalizing legacy cities – and they’re both free!

Lavea and Marianne greatly enjoyed the conference and want to thank Cleveland for being a wonderful host, as always!

13 Strategies for Rust Belt Cities

June 5th, 2014

By Marianne Eppig, Manager of Research & Communications

Rust Belt cities—like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Warren, Youngstown, and Buffalo—have some of the most pernicious challenges facing urban areas today. Concentrated poverty, aging infrastructure, population and industry loss, swaths of vacant properties, and decades of underinvestment are just some of the issues confronting these cities. And yet, now more than ever before, these cities have an opportunity to attract new populations who crave vibrant places with character.

The question is, how do these cities strategically invest in their assets and tackle their obstacles to benefit from this renewed interest in urban living? How can they become great again?

As a graduate student in the City and Regional Planning program at OSU’s Knowlton School of Architecture, I started a yearlong independent study to attempt to answer these questions and to innovate solutions to Rust Belt city challenges. Twelve other masters students in the City and Regional Planning program signed up for the course, and together we spent the 2011-2012 academic year researching, brainstorming, and writing about potential solutions for the Rust Belt. As part of our research, we visited Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Detroit, and Flint during our Spring Break and spent time talking to local leaders and learning from grassroots efforts. By the end of the year, we created a publication compiling our articles on our individual topics and solutions.

The publication that we created is titled 13 Strategies for Rust Belt Cities, and you can download it for free here:

Each article in the publication presents an innovative strategy to address a Rust Belt challenge, such as:

  • Tax code to reduce the number of inner city vacant lots,
  • Chaos planning to bring life into urban cores,
  • Multi-lingual signage to accommodate diverse populations,
  • Policy to protect the Great Lakes,
  • Reuse of abandoned rail lines,
  • Free rent to incentivize migration back into the city, and much more.

Together, these articles paint a vision for what the Rust Belt could be within our lifetimes. By promulgating these ideas, we hope to contribute to the conversation about how to implement strategies for addressing the region’s obstacles and providing avenues to revitalization.

GOPC Endorses HB 223

May 27th, 2014

The Policy Committee of the Greater Ohio Policy Center Board of Directors recently voted to endorse HB 223 (130th GA). HB 223 would expedite the foreclosure and transfer of unoccupied, blighted parcels in cities with Housing Courts (Cleveland and Toledo) or Environmental Courts (Columbus/Franklin County).  The bill also allows for allows for property to be sold for less than 2/3 value to certified buyers in county sheriff sales.

HB 223 is sponsored by Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Representative Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff).

This bill has a five year sunset, effectively creating a pilot program that GOPC anticipates will demonstrate great success.

GOPC’s Policy Committee has endorsed this bill because many communities continue to struggle to mitigate the impact of blighted properties in their neighborhoods.  Providing a framework to shorten the foreclosure timeline will help move properties from “limbo” to responsible end users.  In particular, the ability to buy property at less than 2/3 value at sheriff sales, acknowledges the value of sweat equity in turning around neighborhoods and provides a pathway for interested parties to buy and renovate properties for owner occupancy.

For more information on GOPC’s endorsement, please contact Alison D Goebel, Associate Director at agoebel@greaterohio.org.

The Release of the Guidebook for Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities

May 6th, 2014

In the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis and the long-term abandonment of older industrial cities and their regions, communities and neighborhoods have been increasingly burdened with vacant and abandoned properties. Organizations and municipalities are now more systematically addressing vacant residential properties. However, for years there was very little guidance for the redevelopment of commercial vacant properties, which are equally prevalent — especially throughout older industrial regions.

Commercial and residential vacancy at the county level for legacy cities. Data collected on the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013. Data source: US Postal Service. Data aggregates vacant and no-stat addresses.

 

Today, Greater Ohio Policy Center is releasing its new guidebook, Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization, which is the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive set of tools and strategies for redeveloping commercial vacant properties and business districts in legacy cities.

The guidebook, developed in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and with support from the Center for Community Progress, is designed as a “How To” manual for local leaders, identifying practices and policies that take advantage of the link between available commercial properties and needed economic re-growth strategies in legacy cities.

The tools and strategies provided can be used by local leaders and practitioners no matter where they are in the process of commercial property redevelopment, from data gathering and planning to real estate acquisition and redevelopment, and from tenant attraction and support to business district management.

The guidebook includes the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

While the tools, strategies, and policy recommendations within the guidebook are particularly relevant for legacy cities and their communities, they are also applicable to all cities and regions that seek to reuse commercial vacant properties with the purpose of enhancing community stability and economic development.

Click here for more information and to download the guidebook.

 

GOPC Presents the Commercial Vacant Properties Guidebook in Youngstown

March 14th, 2014

By Marianne Eppig, Manager of Research & Communications

On Monday, I traveled to Youngstown to introduce our new guidebook for redeveloping commercial vacant properties at the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Bootcamp hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. The SC2 Bootcamp in Youngstown was a two-day workshop that brought together national experts and local stakeholders to exchange ideas in support of economic and community revitalization in downtown Youngstown and the surrounding region.

The panel I participated in focused on “Tools and Strategies for Revitalization” that can be used as part of a holistic approach to redevelopment in Youngstown. Tamar Shapiro of Center for Community Progress moderated the panel expertly and the other (highly esteemed) panelists included Heather Arnold of Streetsense, Jamie Schriner-Hooper of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, and Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

For my presentation, I introduced GOPC’s new guidebook for redeveloping commercial properties, titled Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization. Local leaders and practitioners–such as those from community development organizations, municipal planning and economic development departments, Main Street and commercial district programs, SIDs and BIDs–can use the guidebook to plan and manage the revitalization and reuse of commercial vacant properties in legacy cities. The guidebook includes the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

GOPC produced this guidebook in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and the Center for Community Progress. We plan to release the guidebook within the next month.

Click here to view my presentation on the commercial vacant properties guidebook.

The panel also covered tools for developing vibrant retail streets (see Streetsense’s Vibrant Streets Toolkit), methods for working with anchor institutions to revive vacant land and urban spaces (see CUDC’s Pop Up City initiative and Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland), and temporary uses for vacant properties (see VACANT Lansing – the event themes are secret until you show up!). Following the panel, we were able to speak with participants and go into more depth on the tools and strategies presented.

Several of us went on a tour of Youngstown after the event. Dominic Marchionda of NYO Property Group showed us around downtown Youngstown and Wick Park. This tour of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods revealed both challenges and opportunities for efforts that are bringing vibrancy to the city. As Terry Schwarz mentioned during our panel, this will be the work of our lifetimes.

Unique place making: How Ohio should approach the revitalization of its vacant properties

February 24th, 2014

Written by Ryan Dittoe, previous GOPC Intern

Defining a place is a necessary component for recognition and navigation. But unique characteristics that infiltrate an environment lead to an overarching identity of that space, and unique spaces promote cities with substance and life.  As an Ohio State University City and Regional Planning student, I am heavily influenced by the idea of making cities look unlike any other. This can begin with small pockets of creative urban development that together construct whole cities with exclusive personalities. Realizing setbacks, color schemes, historical value, transportation modes, walkability, permeability, and other living aspects of a place and how these functions work together ensure its continual success.

Ohio’s vacant properties require attention to detail. Recently I visited Detroit and listened to a presentation given by Detroit Works. They explained the value of creating revitalized, useful areas through public participatory design (that is, encouraging citizens to share ideas about what they would like to see in any given area that is the focus of revitalization or redesign), implementing a framework of ideas for progress to be initiated, and thinking beyond the normal scope of city planning for a unique design that breathes individuality into a space. An example of this plan in action is the open-air art Heidelberg Project, located near southeast Detroit. A public artist transformed this neglected area into a block-wide sculpture site encouraging residents to visit and experience their city through a different perspective. Projects like this one can provide a multitude of starter ideas for neighboring cities, including Columbus, to uniquely develop their invaluable public spaces. Keep in mind that it is crucial not to “copy” another city’s projects, but to strive for uncommon attributes.

Every city needs attractive “third places.” These are locations you visit outside home and work to interact with your family, friends, or colleagues in a more relaxed manner.  Incorporating these design pockets into the city offers a functional location for socialization. Ohio’s vacant lots (especially those right here in Columbus) might serve well as third places for existing residential and commercial infrastructure. Creating mixed use buildings with permeable human scale faces will attract patrons that are already visiting the area. Creating safe sidewalks, complete streets, attractive storefronts, public seating with lights, landscaping and other vital aspects of a lively city block will engage passersby and stimulate a city’s reputation. Bring back vitality to blighted spaces and allow their energy to be recreated into something useful and noteworthy. Realize that problems are just an opportunity for improvement and prosperity.

The Need for Targeted Demolition

February 24th, 2014

Written by Jacob Wolf, GOPC Researcher

Two recent news articles discuss Ohio legacy cities’ use of demolition programs when faced with large numbers of vacant and abandoned properties. However, the articles also point out that demolition alone is not a complete solution for these problems.

Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding,” which appeared in The New York Times on Nov. 12th, provides an overview of demolition activities in Cleveland, Youngstown, and various other legacy cities nationwide. With city populations declining to fractions of what they once were, some demolition becomes necessary. For example, the average vacant house in Cleveland costs $10,000 to demolish, but it would cost $27,000 per year to maintain in hopes of a future rehabilitation.

However, with resources for demolition limited, cities must prioritize and target their demolition activities to make the maximum impact. Case in point, a recent report by BCT Partners—a firm that works with HUD—recommended a better focus for Youngstown’s demolition. The report’s findings are explained in “Firm urges Youngstown to focus on healthier neighborhoods,” published in the Youngstown Vindicator on Nov. 25th. “If Youngstown is to survive as a residential location,” states the report, “it must shift focus from prioritizing those areas with severe blight to stabilizing healthier neighborhoods and retaining the existing population.”

Youngstown officials say the city had been prioritizing demolition in the most blighted neighborhoods, because those houses cost the least to demolish. They also said EPA regulations and the requirements of the Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) program, which funded the demolitions, necessitated this more “scattershot” approach. While Youngstown has demolished more than 2,600 structures since 2006, more than 4,000 remain in the city. The focus of Youngstown going forward should shift to prioritizing the “quality” of demolitions over the “quantity,” and other cities should follow this lead.