Positive Trends for Ohio’s Communities, but Recovery Remains Fragile

October 13th, 2016

GOPC Opinion Piece
October 12, 2016

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that household income increased and poverty decreased for most Americans in 2015. Census estimates show that these trends held true in most of Ohio as well. This is great news. Without a doubt, gains for Ohioans will help strengthen the economy in our state and local communities.

Yet these encouraging findings must not distract us from the continuing challenges facing Ohio, especially its small and mid-sized cities. Challenges like the shift away from manufacturing, population decline, and concentrated poverty existed long before the Recession but became even more difficult because of it. Creativity and strategic risk-taking by local leaders has resulted in rebounding downtowns, safer neighborhoods, and other reasons for optimism, but past and present Census data strongly suggest that recovery has been fragile and that another downturn could easily undo recent progress.

State and federal lawmakers should support policy solutions that are sensitive to the particular needs of small and mid-sized cities and their regions, which are still transitioning to a new post-industrial economy. Ohio’s long-term prosperity depends on making sure that all of its communities are able to thrive. While the news from the Census Bureau should be celebrated, there is more to be done to guarantee that these positive trends hold steady in the face of future economic dips.

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

 

Social Impact Bonds for Urban Redevelopment and Green Infrastructure Break New Ground

September 6th, 2016

By John Honeck, GOPC Senior Policy Fellow

Social impact bonds (SIBs) or “pay for success” models are debt arrangements established by a public agency or nonprofit organization in order to finance an innovative service or program with an uncertain rate of return.  Investors are paid back in full only if the project succeeds in meeting its goals.  In this way, public agencies are incentivized to take a more flexible approach to problem-solving.  Until recently, social impact bonds were mainly tried in social service and criminal justice fields to test approaches with significant risk.  For example, Cuyahoga County is using a SIB to test a new approach to reduce foster care placements of children with homeless parents.

Two recent deals show that the social impact bond approach can be used in infrastructure and urban redevelopment.  In Hamilton County, the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati has been looking for ways to redevelop sites for manufacturing firms seeking to locate or expand within the county.  Although the county has many abandoned industrial sites, they are often contaminated and have outdated buildings and infrastructure.  The lack of suitable locations for manufacturing expansion puts the county at a significant disadvantage with respect to greenfield development. 

To help remedy the situation, in June, 2016, the Port Authority issued bonds with a principal amount of $7 million for the acquisition and remediation of contaminated sites in the county.[1]  The bonds were purchased by local businesses and high net worth individuals that have an interest in economic development but are willing to provide a source of long-term patient capital.  Investors hope to make a profit when the land is sold, but if the deal does not work out as planned they are only guaranteed a miniscule annual rate of return of 0.15 percent.  If the approach is successful, the Port Authority may seek an additional $13 million from other investors.  This financing strategy may provide an example for other older post-industrial cities in Ohio and the rest of the nation. 

In Washington, D.C., a ground-breaking deal showed the potential for social impact bonds for infrastructure.[2]  The DC Water and Sewer Authority announced in early September that it will seek between $20 – $30 million in financing from investors to support the installation of “green” infrastructure such as porous pavement or rain gardens to manage stormwater flowing into the Potomac River and Rock Creek watersheds.  DC Water hopes to avoid using expensive deep tunnels or other major infrastructure work that would otherwise be necessary to address a federal mandate to stop combined sewer overflows.  Like many other cities in the Eastern U.S., the older parts of Washington’s sewer system combine wastewater and storm water runoff into the same pipes, which overflow when it rains, discharging raw sewage into rivers and streams.  Investors will be repaid according the degree of stormwater control that the project achieves. 

Greater Ohio Policy Center is currently in the midst of a year-long study of innovative financing techniques for water and sewer infrastructure and brownfield redevelopment.  These two issues are critical needs for cities in Ohio and across the nation, as discussed in our earlier report.  Although social impact bonds cannot be expected to provide most of the financing needed to tackle these issues, it can promote innovative approaches to test the application of new programs.  In the long run, these arrangements can also help to build a network of stakeholder organizations that see themselves as partners in addressing a significant environmental or economic problem.  SIBs are not just about financing, they also help to focus public attention on an issue. 

 

 

[1] Press release, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, “Port Authority Issues Impact Investment Debt To Fund Industrial Site Revitalization; Closes $7.0 Million In First Round,” June 16, 2016.  http://www.cincinnatiport.org/wp-content/uploads/Port-Authority-builds-patient-capital-portfolio-6.9.16.pdf

[2] Kyle Glazier, “D.C.’s Social Impact Bond Deal Will Fund Infrastructure,” The Bond Buyer, 9-2-16, http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/regionalnews/dcs-social-impact-bond-deal-will-fund-infrastructure-1112664-1.html.

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!

 

Pokémon Go Bringing Gamers to Underused Public Spaces

August 29th, 2016

By Alex Highley

In the last few months, Pokémon Go has helped shift the gaming community from their TV and computer monitors to outdoor locations where they search for highly coveted Pokémon species. By bringing gamers out of their homes to parks, monuments, streets, and courtyards that they otherwise might never have visited, this game is changing the way these public spaces are being used, at least for now. Businesses are taking note and are attempting to take advantage of the new market of people that are within a short distance. Of course, the long-term value of the game remains to be seen since the popularity of the game will likely wane eventually. But there is the possibility that more video games will be created like Pokémon Go in the future, further drawing throngs of people into public areas and engaging them with the surrounding amenities, businesses, and people. GOPC supports creative ways of bringing people into contact with the assets and anchor institutions of Ohio’s cities.

Pokemon Go Downtown Dayton

With gamers walking down underused streets and ambling around public parks, people who otherwise might not have been outside are now new visitors to these areas, and more likely to participate in other activities such as buying a coffee at a nearby shop, interacting with strangers, or walking around a previously empty park. Increased interaction in these areas that were previously uninhabited will help boost the image of these public spaces, which often suffer from the stigma attached to underuse. New ways of attracting new visitors to city parks and plazas will help spur economic and social growth in public spaces in the future.

 

Models for Success Session Delves into Funding of Ohio’s Transit Systems

July 27th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

As part of the first breakout sessions at the 2016 ODOT Conference held at the Convention Center in Columbus, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Deputy Director Alison Goebel moderated a panel session titled: “Models for Success: Moving Transit Forward in Times of Fiscal Constraint.” After Goebel’s brief comments to frame the session, speakers from Dayton, Cincinnati, and Toledo each discussed the funding models for their respective transit systems and highlighted the current challenges of ensuring that transit is well supported in Ohio. Brandon Policicchio of the Greater Regional Transit Authority, John Deatrick of the City of Cincinnati, and Jim Gee of the Toledo Regional Transit Authority summarized key facts about their area transit systems and described funding opportunities and sources, strategic partners, and innovative services each system provides.

Speakers

Speakers from left: Brandon Policicchio, Jim Gee, Alison Goebel, and John Deatrick

In Ohio, Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) are funded with a variety of local funding sources.  Eight counties utilize a county sales tax of up to 1%. Policicchio noted that Dayton’s RTA benefits over the long term from assurances that that revenue stream will continue, given that the half-cent sales tax does not expire for renewal. A few counties generate the majority of their RTA revenue via non-sales tax means: Toledo Area RTA (TARTA), the Steel Valley, and the Ohio Valley levy a property tax and the Cincinnati area RTA (SORTA) levies an income tax. Interestingly, Deatrick noted that Cincinnati will begin to levy a new parking fee to generate a few million dollars to fund the Streetcar, which will be unveiled in September.

While 27 Ohio counties do not even operate a public transit system, and given that 60 percent of public transit trips are work trips (medical trips are the second most common destination for transit riders), local transit systems would greatly benefit from increased state support. As GOPC has highlighted in recent memos, Ohio’s contribution to transit calculates to 63 cents per capita, which ranks 38th in the nation – in between Mississippi and North Dakota. With federal grant support few and far between, Gee explained that many existing transit authorities must scramble to find creative local ways to ensure their systems continue to serve riders.

Despite the strains facing Ohio’s transit systems, Gee emphasized that there are reasons to be encouraged about transit in Ohio. Firstly, ODOT remains an important player and a key partner in ensuring that transit has a bright future in Ohio. GOPC echoes this support of the state’s role and was encouraged by ODOT’s commission of the 2015 Transit Needs Study. Secondly, baby boomers and millennials simply demand more public transportation and will be a significant voice in this issue. Thirdly, there are already many success stories in Ohio; as Policicchio and Deatrick discussed, Dayton serves over 200,000 annual trips while Cincinnati is implementing exciting mobile technologies such as fare purchasing via smartphone as part of its imminent Streetcar rollout. Moreover, Cleveland was selected to host the recent Republican National Convention in large part due to its robust light rail system and excellent Bus Rapid Transit fleet.

Brandon DaytonJim GeeJohn Deatrick

From left: Policicchio, Gee, and Deatrick

The need for additional state support is clear, however this session highlighted that Ohio’s transit agencies are acting creatively and resourcefully to meet demand for their services. 

 

Update on Recently Passed Bills by Ohio General Assembly

June 28th, 2016

May 2016 was a busy month at the Ohio General Assembly with a number of bills passed, including several that GOPC has been tracking.  The bills described will assist neighborhood and community revitalization efforts around the state.

  • HB390-fast track mortgage foreclosure on blighted residential properties.  This bill became the vehicle for HB463 (and the earlier iteration of HB134).  The portion of the bill GOPC was closely following provides path to expedite mortgage foreclosure on blighted residential property.  The bill requires properties for sale through the sheriff or a private auctioneer to be offered through a website as well as in person.  This bill is on the way to Governor for signature.
  • HB 233-Downtown Redevelopment Districts.  This act authorizes municipal corporations to create DRDs and Innovation Districts, which are essentially TIF districts.  The DRD TIF and the Innovation District TIF can be used for a range of activities, including funding downtown managers (i.e. operating costs) and investing in building rehabilitation.  This act has been signed and will go into effect August 6, 2016.
  • HB 182-Joint Economic Development Districts.  This bill expands eligible uses of JEDD income tax to include redevelopment; allows retail businesses to apply for property tax exemption in Enterprise Zones; adjusts Ohio’s New Market Tax Credit to allow more businesses to apply; requires federal NMTC commitment to access state NMTC.  The bill is on its way to the Governor for signature.
  • HB 303- D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed Program.  The bill creates a voluntary program whereby homeowner facing foreclosure can quit-claim deed their home to their lender (deed in lieu of foreclosure) and then lease back the property for a set period of time with the option to rebuy. The bill is on its way to the Governor for signature.

Reflecting on a Successful Fellowship on Legacy City Revitalization at UChicago’s Institute of Politics

June 15th, 2016

By Lavea Brachman, GOPC Executive Director

I have recently returned from a two month fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, a new nonpartisan entity designed to ignite a passion in students for politics and public service, where I taught the seminar, “Can America’s Older Industrial Cities Pull Off a Second Act?”  I drew heavily on the research and advocacy work that GOPC is doing with its many partners to drive economic prosperity in Ohio’s legacy cities (or older industrial cities), where quality of life and regrowth are challenged.

The seminar raised questions such as: how to distribute scarce resources for neighborhood revitalization; what is the role of large anchor institutions, like universities and hospitals, in generating neighborhood or economic development when that is not their primary mission; how are massive transportation and sewer and water infrastructure needs going to be financed; and how do we tailor policies and practices to account for the differences between large and small legacy cities.

But the challenge – either implicit or explicit — underlying all of these questions is that of the existing and growing economic divide in Ohio’s cities as well as other legacy cities, like Detroit, Gary, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia, as the percentage and numbers of middle income residents continue to decline.

    LB chicago

This phenomenon is not limited to legacy cities in this country, but the economic contrast is particularly stark in them and has profound societal and political consequences. For instance, UChicago, situated in the thriving Hyde Park neighborhood, is also a stone’s throw from other parts of Chicago’s South Side with remnants of older industrial past– closed manufacturing plants, some still operating factories —  resembling other Midwestern legacy cities.   If you didn’t know you were in America’s third largest city – and the largest and most prosperous city in the Midwest –  then you would think you were transported to a legacy city neighborhood with high levels of economic distress.  Contrast that with Chicago’s downtown and many of its adjacent neighborhoods with thriving commercial and residential districts.   Like legacy cities, Chicago, too, is experiencing increasing extremes in residential income levels and neighborhood conditions.

This trend is of deep concern not only for the residents living in these neighborhoods but also for residents in the more prosperous areas in the rest of Chicago as well as in these other cities — and our country. As our legacy cities rebound, let’s demonstrate economic regrowth practices that intentionally address this increasing economic gap, so they can be the leaders in solving and reversing this growing, pernicious national trend.   

A Great Year and a Heartfelt Farewell to Greater Ohio Policy Center

June 6th, 2016

By Lindsey Gardiner

At the beginning of April last year I embarked on a journey with GOPC, as Manager of Government Affairs, that would challenge me to think outside the box and learn about policies that would address issues communities face on a day-to-day basis. From foreclosure to abandoned gas stations, I never knew and truly understood the rippling effect they had on the overall health of a neighborhood and impact on business growth. In a little over a year’s time I have had the privilege to see a significant amount of development of economic development and revitalization policy within the Ohio Legislature. I have come to know numerous legislators who are just as passionate as GOPC in bringing Ohio communities back to pre-great recession levels, and I cannot wait to see the progress that is made over the next year. Unfortunately, the upcoming work that GOPC and the State accomplish together must be made from afar as I have accepted a position that is closer to my family in northeast Ohio. Nevertheless, I will most certainly cherish the relationships I’ve made and carry the lessons I’ve learned about community revitalization and economic development with me wherever my family and I go in Ohio and beyond.

You may have already observed the many legislative developments this month after browsing our May Legislative Update, and in that you might have noticed that the foreclosure reform bill (HB 463) made its way across the legislative “finish line” just before the House and Senate made a much-deserved return to their home districts for the Summer Recess. Like any bill, HB 463 was no easy task and required a lot of negotiation, compromise, and of course patience. A little over a year ago when I began working with GOPC I was invited to serve, per the Ohio State Bar Association, as one of the voices that would help craft legislation aimed at fixing Ohio’s deeply flawed foreclosure policy. Learning about foreclosure was quite the learning process, but as a former legislative staffer, lobbyist, and appointed local government official, I personally believe that Ohio has a lot of serious progress to be proud of.

My first job I served as a Legislative Aide and Clerk of the House Ways and Means Committee for the Ohio House of Representatives, and I have to admit I never thought I would learn so much about tax policy nor did I ever anticipate becoming so passionate about the subject. My experience at GOPC has been similar with fast-track foreclosure, but it is also the case for the remediation of brownfields. When the Clean Ohio Fund was implemented, brownfield cleanup was funded by the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund (CORF) making our state a leader in turning these unusable eyesores into functioning pieces of communities. The return of jobs and revenue goes unmatched by other remediation programs offered by the State today, and although CORF is no longer implemented I believe Ohio is making its way back to focusing on brownfields with the recent development of the Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Program. There is so much opportunity when it comes to brownfield cleanup and after working on this particular subject for a little over a year I have learned that job creation, attracting/retaining the millennial workforce, and revitalizing communities are all interconnected with brownfields. GOPC’s unique place-based perspective seamlessly ties these various elements together in a way that I believe will help keep the Legislature moving in the right direction in brownfields cleanup.

Overall, my experience at GOPC has been something I will never forget. GOPC has tremendous leadership and staff, who are passionate about their cause and I thank them for their dedication to revitalizing communities and creating a stronger Ohio. I look forward to seeing GOPC’s research play an instrumental role in educating community leaders and seeing those efforts applied in the policy making process. Best of luck to GOPC and thank you for everything!!!

 

Legacy of Poindexter Village Celebrated in Columbus

May 27th, 2016

By Sheldon K. Johnson, Urban Revitalization Project Specialist

On Wednesday March 18th, Greater Ohio Policy Center attended Columbus Metropolitan Club’s (CMC) event to commemorate the history and legacy of Poindexter Village. Constructed in 1939, Poindexter Village was the first public-housing project in the city of Columbus. All but two of the 35 buildings that housed 414 units were demolished by the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) in 2013. The 26 acre site will be redeveloped in several phases. The first phase, a 104 unit senior apartment complex called Poindexter Place, is nearing completion. The occasion last week, though, was not about planning for the future, but celebrating and remembering the past.

Poindexter Village was named for the Rev. James M. Poindexter, a prominent leader in Columbus’ 19th century black community.  Rev. Poindexter was the pastor of Second Baptist Church from 1862-1898, became the first African-American elected to the Columbus City Council in 1880, and served on the Columbus Board of Education from 1884-1893. Poindexter Village was significant not only in name, but also for its location. Prior to the establishment of CMHA the area between Long Street and Mount Vernon Avenue was known as the Blackberry Patch. It was home to low-income African-Americans who lived in low quality housing.

Poindexter Village offered not only quality housing with modern amenities, but allowed for the creation of a community. The neighborly atmosphere of Poindexter Village was an important part of the discussion between panelists Myron Lowery, Memphis (TN) City Council Chairman, Curtis J. Moody, president and CEO at Moody Nolan, and Leslie J. Sawyer, retired civil servant. Mr. Lowery, who lived in Poindexter Village for 4 years, and Ms. Sawyer, who attended Poindexter Village Preschool while her father managed the complex, both spoke of how important community was to their childhood.

Several audience members shared memories of their time living in Poindexter Village and urged that the legacy of the complex not be forgotten. Though details of what will happen in the next phases of redevelopment weren’t discussed this event speaks to the importance of the built environment. The presence, or lack thereof, of surroundings such as buildings, greenspace, and infrastructure can have both positive and negative effects on a community. Balancing the revitalization of bricks and sticks for the future while celebrating the special culture of a specific neighborhood or city is important work that many Greater Ohio Policy Center partners are currently undertaking.