Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities

Setting the Stage: Challenges and Opportunities

Vacant and abandoned properties have been on the rise in Ohio’s cities and towns for over two decades -- long before the national economic downturn hit in 2008. From 1990 to 2010, the average vacancy rate in Ohio's top seven cities almost doubled -- with smaller cities and towns throughout the state experiencing similar trends. While highly concentrated in Ohio’s urban cores -- from Cleveland to Dayton, Toledo to Cincinnati, Youngstown to Columbus — this crisis transcends our cities, affecting inner ring suburbs, smaller cities and towns, such as Lima, Mansfield and Ironton, as well as exurban and rural areas. In some instances, outdated or inadequate state policies have exacerbated these trends, or interfered with prevention or redevelopment efforts. As both a symptom and a cause of further economic decline and population loss, then, arresting these vacant and abandoned property trends – both residential and commercial -- is a critical component to ensure that our cities and the state can flourish, attract new businesses and entrepreneurs and build a new economic base going forward.

In response, a consensus is emerging that addressing this challenge to turn these properties into development opportunities is critical to restoring our state's prosperity as a whole. In fact, addressing the physical deterioration of our cities and towns is a key component of state job creation and economic development strategies, requiring state action to bolster local actions and practices. This Initiative aims to equip local leaders with information, policy ideas and practices necessary to make progress against this increasing tide of vacancy and abandonment and to advance state policy reforms that are aligned with local action.

Initiative Overview

Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities is a multi-year Initiative designed to combat vacant and abandoned properties and foster community redevelopment. The Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities Initiative has three objectives:

  • To create opportunities for property disposition and redevelopment that reduce delinquency, increase property values and increase market opportunities through policy development and advancement
  • To provide community leaders with data and best practices
  • To generate a statewide network of local leaders making neighborhood and community improvements

With Ohio’s cities and towns at a crisis point, training and education, research, coalition-building and advocacy are increasingly vital to prevent further blight and uncover opportunistic ways to inventively and productively reshape our communities.

Initiative Activities

Several critical factors collectively create a unique and timely "window of opportunity” for launching this Initiative at this time: first, multiple new county land banks are finally coming “on line” around the state, following passage of the 2010 state statute; second, community development is being redefined and repositioned at the state level with an unprecedented bureaucratic overhaul that with potential opportunities for intervention; and third, a unique electoral cycle in Ohio spanning the 2012 national election and the run-up to the 2014 gubernatorial race. Together, these elements provide openings to highlight the problem property crisis, engage the Kasich Administration and Ohio General Assembly and, in turn, advance policies and support local tools.

To leverage this unique set of circumstances over the next two to three years, GOPC expects the Initiative to encompass the following activities:

Policy Development and Advancement.

Using its trademark bi-partisan approach, GOPC will work with its partners to identify a robust set of short-, medium- and long-range policy reforms that address demands for immediate fixes, such as demolition funding, to meet urgent challenges as well as putting in place long-term structural changes to facilitate property disposition, management and redevelopment. This policy development and advancement effort has three parts. GOPC will: (1) work with local partners to forge support for these policies and to develop the right state policy reforms that are aligned with local needs; (2) educate General Assembly members, Kasich Administration officials and policymakers about the urgency of this crisis and the range of solutions; and (3) articulate and communicate the case that resolution of this crisis, which transcends our cities, is critical to our state's prosperity as a whole and requires a bipartisan response. The sources of this crisis are clearly complicated and multivariate and therefore so will the solutions need to range from prevention to maintenance to redevelopment.

Research.

GOPC will document and monitor vacancy and abandonment trends, foreclosure rates, and such local practices as code enforcement efforts in cities and towns throughout the state. Where this information is gathered locally, GOPC will be the repository for the information to track local, regional and state trends and, where helpful, support the case for policy reforms. Additionally, this data will support GOPC’s efforts to advise communities on targeting strategic neighborhood investments and other local redevelopment strategies. GOPC will also act as a clearinghouse -- researching and collecting best practices from localities in and outside Ohio and making them available through a website for use by local practitioners and community development leaders.

Education and Best Practices: Forums & Trainings.

In April 2012 GOPC held the Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute, a two-day interactive training and policy solutions workshop to arm local leaders from municipalities, nonprofit community development organizations and the private sector with hands-on tools and strategies for addressing vacant and abandoned property redevelopment challenges, and provide opportunity for input on policy reforms. Featuring presentations from local practitioners, financial institutions, and state and national level redevelopment experts, the Institute covered a diverse range of topics including: acquisition tools, land banks, code enforcement, neighborhood stabilization and revitalization strategies, property information systems, demolition and urban redevelopment successes.

We are grateful to our growing list of Institute sponsors, including: Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, PNC Bank, Fifth Third Bank, Safeguard Properties, Huntington Bank, Neighborhood Progress Inc., Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Ohio Department of Development, Ohio Housing Finance Agency, NeighborWorks America and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.