Recrafting Vacant Properties into Assests: Panel at HeritageOhio

October 19th, 2015

By Ellen Turk, GOPC Intern

I recently attended a panel at the HeritageOhio annual conference where Alison Goebel, Associate Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center along with Doug Lewis, Painesville Assistance City Manager and Josh Harmon, President of the Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association, discussed utilizing “Vacant Properties as Assets”.

Goebel explained that since the 1970s Ohio’s population has incrementally declined while land use for commercial purposes has remained stable. In addition to this decline, Ohioans’ demographic makeup has continued to age at a rapid rate. Vacant properties across the state have remained at about 10%, costing an estimated $15 million in city services each year with $49 million lost in taxpaying revenue. Eight cities in Ohio spent $41 million servicing vacant properties. To this end, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s guidebook, “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities,” functions as a resource for anyone seeking to redevelop and reuse vacant properties in downtown areas of towns or cities to promote economic growth.  Motivating business people and owners to invest in downtown properties and updating them can help attract visitors and generate revenue for communities.

But how do you encourage title owners to maintain their property or business owners to invest in local downtowns?

One method described in the guidebook and implemented successfully by Painesville Assistance City Manager Doug Lewis is through passing a Vacant Properties Ordinance. In Painesville, vacant properties can be owned by a variety of titleholders, including irresponsible owners and corporations not inclined to sell or maintain. The Ordinance requires owners to submit a Vacant Properties Plan whereby proprietors who do not comply with the rules of the Ordinance and proprietors who do not file the plan on time face fines. If the property is no longer deemed vacant, 30% of the building must be used and the first floor must be utilized.

Another way to curb irresponsible property ownership is through the courts. In Cleveland, the court system has stipulated that you can conduct no business within the court until you have paid off any outstanding fines to the court. This is very useful for incentivizing owners of multiple vacant buildings with fines to sell or generate revenue on the properties. Also, a Court Community Service program ensures minor offenders are placed in the community to perform manual labor and bring properties back to building code compliance.

According to the guidebook, another essential tool is hard data demonstrating the economic effects of revitalization. Josh Harmon spoke about the importance of data as a tool to show communities the detriments of having vacant properties. Census counts recording the number of vacant properties in an area is important. Often, showing residents a vacant property can act as a drain to city resources encourages them to support Vacant Building Ordinances. In Franklin County alone the last time that vacant properties were assessed was 2006! To mitigate vacant property problems, Greater Ohio Policy Center recommends targeting resources, forming alliances in the community, and defining the most effective way to allocate funds and assets.

GOPC participates in Roundtable on Small and Medium sized Legacy Cities

October 13th, 2015
By Alison Goebel, GOPC Associate Director

Last week, GOPC participated in a Roundtable on Leveraging Local Assets in Small and Medium Sized Cities, sponsored by the Center for Community Progress.  This small Roundtable brought together leaders from a number of sectors who work in Flint, Dayton, Youngstown, and Syracuse. Through a neighborhood tour, presentations, and conversations over meals, GOPC learned about cutting-edge strategies that these medium sized legacy cities implement to accelerate their revitalization and return to vibrancy.

At the beginning of the Roundtable, GOPC presented preliminary research findings generated from analysis of current conditions and trends of a number of small and medium-sized cities in the Midwest and Northeast. GOPC also described promising and innovative urban stabilization and revitalization strategies has found through collaborative research with CCP Senior Fellow Alan Mallach.  One of the most valuable components of the Roundtable was learning firsthand of incredible work underway in these four representative cities.

Flint has recently completed an amazing master plan, Imagine Flint, which includes 13 different zoning districts that acknowledge the reality of current land use and prepare the city to maximize its assets for the future.  The plan is sensitive to the current market and responds to what residents want for the future.  For example, during our neighborhood tour we visited a newly zoned site consisting of work and residential buildings.


Habitat for Humanity-Flint is helping a family rebuild a new home and retail space where people can play tabletop games, like Dungeons and Dragons.

Syracuse described a highly successful partnership between St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Care, a workforce development program, and community revitalization program.  Through St. Joseph’s leadership, the surrounding neighborhood is being revitalized, hospital employees are living in the neighborhoods, and the hospital is achieving an unprecedented retention rate among local residents who participate in the workforce program.

Dayton discussed the advantages of utilizing a non-profit, CityWide Development Corporation to direct redevelopment around key anchors in the city—including a new elementary school and a hospital.  CityWide, as the lead entity for this public-private partnership, is spearheading three major redevelopment projects that are tied to key anchor institutions.


Downtown Flint is revitalized and populated. The Flint Weather Ball is also visible in this picture.  It turns red when the temperatures are predicted to rise and blue when the temperature is expected to go down. The night of the picture, the temperature was remaining steady and so the ball was yellow.

Roundtable participants were excited by a new strategy Youngstown is piloting, which they call micro-planning.  The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) has identified key schools, churches, and other community facilities that can potentially be a catalyst for neighborhood regrowth and YNDC is now directing its resources to the blocks that surround these smaller institutions.

The challenges these cities have faced—and the ability to master and leverage these challenges into opportunities—was inspiring and reaffirmed the resiliency and strength of these places.

flint 3

Ridgway White, CEO of the C.S.Mott Foundation was our host for the Roundtable.  Over dinner we swapped stories and received advice and suggestions from peer cities on different revitalization strategies.

Boston Professor Discusses Fundamental Importance of Affordable Housing

October 1st, 2015

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

Dr. Megan Sandel, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University spoke this week to the Columbus Metropolitan Club about the importance of housing as a solution to many health and educational concerns. Sandel and EJ Thomas, the chief executive of Habitat for Humanity MidOhio, spoke for about an hour underscoring the idea that access to affordable, decent housing is the most critical foundation for leading a healthy life and should be prioritized in discussions of solving related problems. At a time when many people are struggling to pay rent, Greater Ohio Policy Center recently studied national models emerging in Ohio that seek to rebuild neighborhoods tainted with abandoned homes. GOPC’s assessments of projects in Columbus’ Weinland Park and Cleveland’s Slavic Village show that Sandel and Thomas’ vision of rehabilitating blighted properties into safe and affordable housing can be successful.

Sandel explained that the link between housing and health is not at all a new concept; in fact, a report was published in 1911 confirming housing’s vital role as a basis for good health. In the modern era, this relationship still exists but historical worries such as fire hazards and threats of tuberculosis have subsided thanks to modern building codes. Instead, the affordable housing gap between wages and rents is the most pressing cause for unease. Even in a state where housing is generally considered cheap, a quarter of Ohio residents pay at least half of their income on rent alone. Moreover, of the 54,000 families in central Ohio, there are 1,500 people experiencing homelessness.

These stats make for grim reading but Sandel and Thomas believe pulling together ideas and resources from nonprofits, policymakers, and business leaders will allow communities to more successfully and cost-effectively identify housing needs and enable struggling families to afford a roof over their heads. GOPC’s report found that collaborative investments in Weinland Park totaling $80 million by philanthropy groups, government agencies, and other stakeholders have contributed to the area’s increased stability. In fact, housing values in Weinland Park are more evenly distributed between low and high prices than before intervention, while subsidized housing helps protect vulnerable residents from being priced out of the market.

During her talk, Sandel emphasized that interventions should embrace devoting resources to entire neighborhoods at a time, rather than individual homes. GOPC documented that the Slavic Village Recovery Project strategy targeted a “critical mass” of over 300 properties to renovate and demolish, which reflects Sandel’s more holistic approach to revitalization. Finally, Sandel said her response to people who are unconvinced that communities can afford greater investment in reasonably priced housing is: “can you afford not to?” As a result of shrinking availability of affordable housing, we are already paying too much in terms of health services, special education, and fighting crime.

GOPC Legislative Update September 2015

September 24th, 2015

The following grid is designed to provide you with insight into the likelihood of passage of the legislation we are monitoring. Please note that due to the fluid nature of the legislative process, the color coding of bills is subject to change at any time. GOPC will be regularly updating the legislative update the last Thursday of every month and when major developments arise. If you have any concerns about a particular bill, please let us know.

(Bills Available Online at

(Bills Available Online at


Explanation of Bill Impact on Economic Development within Ohio:


HB 134 is sponsored by Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Representative Mike Curtin (D-Marble Cliff). This bill would expedite the foreclosure and transfer of unoccupied, blighted parcels in cities with Housing Courts (Cleveland and Toledo) or Environmental Courts (Columbus/Franklin County).  Many communities continue to struggle to mitigate the impact of blighted properties in their neighborhoods. HB 134 provides a framework to shorten the foreclosure timeline to move properties from “limbo” to responsible end users.


HB 182 is sponsored by Representative Kirk Schuring (R-Canton). HB 182 will enable townships, cities, and villages to cooperatively address concerns associated with diminishing local revenues, economic development, growth, and annexation pressures. The bill is a local community approach to solving economic development issues by providing local governments the ability to enter into legal agreements that will increase revenues and create jobs.


HB 233 is sponsored by Representative Kirk Schuring (R-Canton). HB 233 authorizes municipal corporations to create downtown redevelopment districts and innovation districts for the purpose of promoting the rehabilitation of historic buildings and promoting economic development in commercial and mixed-use residential areas.


HB 303 is sponsored by Representatives Jonathan Dever (R-Madeira) and Robert McColley (R-Napoleon). This Deed Over, Lender Leaseback, Agreed Financing (D.O.L.L.A.R. Deed) Programwould direct the Ohio Housing Finance Agency to administer a loss mitigation alternative for borrowers who are default on a mortgage encumbering a parcel of real property. HB 303 would allow homeowners to remain in their homes as a tenant instead of foreclosing on the property. This legislation will supply an additional tool to fight the abandoned property epidemic in Ohio and help prevent foreclosures and blight.


SB 40 is sponsored by Senator Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City). The Ohio Neighborhood Infrastructure Assistance Program (NIAP) would provide tax credits to individuals and for-profit corporations that invest in place-based catalytic neighborhood projects with non-profit organizations across Ohio. The NIAP is about businesses and residents investing in their communities for catalytic change. SB 40 would help communities achieve place based projects, which are essential for thriving communities. Additionally, the bill would facilitate job growth within our most vulnerable communities.


SB 41 is sponsored by Senators Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City) and Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus). Continuing law authorizes a nonrefundable tax credit with a four-year carryforward against the insurance and financial institution taxes for insurance companies and financial institutions that purchase and hold securities issued by low income community organizations to finance investments in qualified active low-income community businesses in Ohio, in accordance with the federal New Markets Tax Credit law.


SB 201 is sponsored by Senators Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) and Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights). SB 201 would add “an offense of violence” to the section of state law that authorities use in court to board up properties. The bill would give city prosecutors an additional tool to deal with nuisance problems faced in cities and in rural areas.



Please check our blog for regular updates on legislation as it progresses within the House and Senate chambers.



Cleveland & Lucas County Awarded Revitalization Assistance

September 18th, 2015

Congratulations to the city of Cleveland and Lucas County, Ohio for receiving the Technical Assistance Scholarship Program (TASP) from the Center for Community Progress! Via a competitive application process, Cleveland and Lucas County were two of the three communities to receive support in this round of technical assistance. Criteria for receiving this assistance were based on a number of factors including potential for innovation and demonstrated leadership to implement reform.

CCP will offer 200 hours of technical assistance to Cleveland and Lucas County in order to combat challenges such as property vacancy, abandonment, and tax delinquency currently facing these areas. Specifically, a team of national experts will lead staff trainings, provide legal and policy analysis, and publish tailored reports for improvement. The bulk of TASP’s leverage is made possible by JPMorgan Chase’s grant funding support. In this collaborative effort, JPMorgan Chase has shown a strong commitment to neighborhood revitalization through its support for the Center for Community Progress and local communities.

GOPC is On the Go this Fall!

September 17th, 2015

The Greater Ohio Policy Center will be championing the revitalization of Ohio’s communities and metros at a number of conferences this fall including:

  • The Summit on Sustainability, presented by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.  (October 2, Columbus).  GOPC will be a panelist discussing proposed and potential state policies that support sustainability in Ohio.
  • Heritage Ohio Annual Revitalization and Preservation Conference (October 5-7, Columbus).  GOPC will be moderating a panel on strategies to motivate redevelopment and beautification in historic downtowns.
  • Roundtable on Leveraging Assets in Small and Medium sized Legacy Cities, presented by Center for Community Progress (October 8-9, Flint, MI). GOPC will discuss factors that have supported small and medium sized legacy cities in regenerating and flourishing.
  • Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference (October 27-27, Columbus).  GOPC will be a contributor to a panel on the recent Transit Needs study and what it means for Ohio’s communities.
  • Annual Meeting of Municipal Finance Officers Association of Ohio, presented by the Ohio Municipal League (October 29-30, Dublin).  GOPC will discuss Ohio’s changing demographics and their impact on Ohio’s cities.
  • Ohio Housing Conference, presented by Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (December 1-3, 2015)


GOPC Staff Attends the 2015 Urban GOP Leadership Conference

August 17th, 2015

It is without a doubt that the first Republican Presidential Debate was the headlining event within the City of Cleveland last week. Along with the debate, the first Urban GOP Leadership Conference co-hosted by the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County (RPCC) and City GOP made quite a stir in the city as well.

The Conference brought together GOP Committeemen, State Chairs, and party activists and provided a platform to discuss opportunities to develop and grow their party in urban communities. One of the more notable discussions relevant to GOPC was the discussion during the “Youth Engagement Panel”. During the panel, it was good news to hear that both sides of the aisle will be fiercely competing for urban voters as we get closer to the 2016 Presidential Election.

Urban GOP Leadership Conference "Youth Engagement Panel"

Urban GOP Leadership Conference “Youth Engagement Panel”

Panelists acknowledged America’s urban cores are places of increasing in-migration and reinvestment. It was also noted that millennials in particular, adults between the ages of 18 and 34, have been the primary population responsible for this “reurbanization.” These changing demographics impact policy with ramifications in housing, transportation, and many other aspects included within economic development policy.

GOPC is excited to hear that urban voters are a top priority for both parties and is looking forward to learning their plans to improve the lives of those living in urban centers. It will be interesting to see how each party plans to win the hearts of urban voters and respond to economic development challenges so many cities in  America encounter.

A Prescription for Urban Regeneration Part II

August 17th, 2015

Opportunities for Ohio’s Cities

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

Yesterday, I discussed Ohio’s development patterns and how suburban development (i.e. lower-density development) and high rates of racial and economic inequality exist in Ohio’s three largest cities: Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.  While inequity and low density development continue to some extent, these historic trends are beginning to subside as there has been a renewed interest in an urban lifestyle by two key demographics. Millennials, the cohort of people born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, and empty nesters appear to prefer to live in urban areas where there is increased walkability and mixed-use development. However, this in-migration of members of the middle-class and affluent people into these areas has arguably led to the displacement of poorer residents through the process of gentrification. However, with many of Ohio’s cities having lost a tremendous number of citizens since its peak population, such as Cleveland, where only half the number of the original population remains, there is obviously room for everyone. Therefore, the displacement of vulnerable populations— people of color, people living in poverty, elderly people—can benefit only if the repopulation of our cities is done thoughtfully.

Cities are once-again beginning to prosper and grow, however, there remains more to be done to ensure that they continue to thrive and stand as a place where people want to live and work. An urban agenda must be put in place to prioritize sustainable urban regeneration. Mayor Coleman of Columbus recently made a call for such an action plan to state lawmakers during his keynote speech at the GOPC’s summit on urban revitalization and sustainable growth in early June of this year. He outlined the plan as including increased access and diversity of public transit options – both within cities and connecting Ohio’s urban areas. He also noted the sustained need to fight blight in Ohio’s urban centers, as well as the renewal of a fund to provide for the redevelopment of brownfields, or polluted industrial sites. Finally, he emphasized the need for the state legislature to increase local government funds, which have been cut in recent years, to be able to support the many services that cities provide to the general public.

An urban agenda must also include smart-growth strategies to combat the spread of the uncontained suburban growth covered in the previous post. One possible solution includes the implementation of urban growth boundaries. While this approach may not be as applicable or feasible in Ohio as it may be in other states, it has been established in the state of Oregon. Regardless, infill development should take place first in order to utilize open space already available in urban centers. Further options include the transfer of development rights to allow for higher-density development in some areas and lower-density development in other places, open-space zoning, and conservation easements for the long-term protection of natural areas and farmlands from urban development. Together, these policies stand to provide for the revitalization of Ohio’s economic engines in order to be competitive in the 21st century.

A Prescription for Urban Regeneration Part I

August 17th, 2015

The History and Consequence of Ohio Cities’ Development Patterns

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern

Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus have more in common than their location in the buckeye state. Together, these three metropolises have the largest concentration of the state’s population. Unfortunately, they also have the highest levels of neighborhood inequality in terms of income, education, homeownership rate, and housing values. In Worlds Apart, a new report released by the Urban Institute in June of this year, an index intended to calculate this form of inequality was developed and utilized, and ultimately supported this conclusion. The neighborhood inequality score, indicating the overall degree of inequality within each region, is calculated by subtracting the average neighborhood advantage score (a composite score of the four indicators mentioned above) of the areas’ bottom census tracts from the average of its top census tracts.  Columbus tops off with a neighborhood inequality score of 5.54, while Cleveland and Cincinnati are not far behind with scores of 5.26 and 5.17, respectively.

Accordingly, all of these cities are geographically segregated, with the majority of the poor inhabiting the urban core and those who are more privileged residing in the suburbs. However, in two of these municipalities, suburban-like development exists within city limits, disbanding the conventional association of cities with urban development. This is the case in both Columbus and Cincinnati. In Columbus, the suburbs account for sixty percent of the households in the municipality, while Cincinnati is forty-nine percent, or nearly half, suburban.* Although the wholly urban city of Cleveland is an outlier in this examination of city density, it remains evident that Ohio cities are heavily suburbanized and at the same time greatly segmented.

To be able to fully analyze and comprehend the present inequality and density within these regions, it is necessary to put it into a larger context within the history of suburban sprawl and the discriminatory practice of redlining, which carved up cities into desirable (i.e. white), average and undesirable (neighborhood of color) areas. The end of the Second World War signified the start of a new era as new cultural norms and demographic changes diffused across the nation. The baby boom that followed the war led to an increase in the number of families seeking housing who were aided by house-buying subsidies included in the GI Bill. This led to the development of new subdivisions on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, many which had restrictive covenants restricting the sale of homes to desirable (i.e. white) residents inserted into the subdivision’s incorporation articles and often transferring over to the deed of the house. The growing popularity and affordability of the automobile facilitated the feasibility and creation of these car-dependent societies. Furthermore, gas taxes subsidized major road construction projects, including the interstate highway system, providing a faster commute between suburban regions and the downtown area.

These developments also coincided with the “white flight” movement that embodied the large-scale migration of white people of various European descents out of the urban core and into suburban or exurban communities. Businesses and industries followed suit, resulting in a rapid decline in the number of jobs available to those who remained in the core of the city and expansive urban decay. The minority groups within the inner city had little hope of escaping poverty, as it was near impossible for residents of these areas to obtain mortgages or loans from banks, who unfairly refused to provide their services to these people. This continued until the passage of The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, and it was not until the Community Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress in 1977 that the harsh effects of the so-called redlining began to be reversed.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the possibilities latent in our cities and the opportunities to overcome and transform this history.

*Percentages were calculated by dividing the number of households within zip codes determined to be suburban by an analysis of its development density out of the total number of households in the zip codes with half or more of its territory within city limits.

GOPC is Hiring

August 17th, 2015

The Greater Ohio Policy Center is seeking qualified candidates for the new position of Project Associate, Research and Communications.  GOPC will accept applications for this junior-level position until the position is filled.

For more details about the position and required qualifications, please visit our Job Opportunities page.