NEON | Rooms to Let | Foundry Project – 2015.6.1

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Posted in 2015.6.1, Newsletter, Uncategorized

Today’s Land Bank Boom Could Lead to the Extinction of Land Banks (

Frank Alexander wasn’t expecting his book, Land Banks and Land Banking, to wind up so big. “In 2010, when we created the Center for Community Progress one of the reasons we did so, Dan Kildee and I, is [because] we could not keep up with the demand, the calls we were getting about vacant and abandoned properties, or requests for help for drafting legislation,” says Alexander, an Emory law professor. “The 2011 [book] was purely a defensive measure on my part as a way of getting information out there so I didn’t say the same thing on a telephone call everyday.”“In 2010, when we created the Center for Community Progress one of the reasons we did so, Dan Kildee and I, is [because] we could not keep up with the demand, the calls we were getting about vacant and abandoned properties, or requests for help for drafting legislation,” says Alexander, an Emory law professor. “The 2011 [book] was purely a defensive measure on my part as a way of getting information out there so I didn’t say the same thing on a telephone call everyday.”

But it has been that big. As Next City columnist Alexis Stephens has pointed out, only five states passed land bank legislation from 1971 to 2008. Yet eight states have passed such laws just since 2011. Delaware might be ninth to join the pack in the coming weeks. Alexander’s report has been regarded the principal text on the topic during this land bank boon, and it serves as a free, downloadable template for lawmakers working on drafting land bank legislation of their own.

According to Center for Community Progress, there were only a “handful” of land banks in 2005. In 2011, they counted 79; today, there are approximately 120. The surge is part of the reason Alexander wrote a new edition, released today — to provide more background on land banking’s evolution and the newer examples that have sprung forth.

Alexander lightheartedly describes himself a “Georgia dirt lawyer.” But if Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan is to be hailed as the father of the modern land bank movement, perhaps Alexander, his fellow Center of Community Progress co-founder, should be regarded as its architect.

But just because Alexander is one of land banking’s most prominent champions doesn’t mean that he’s advocating for its permanence. In fact, he hopes that as decades pass, they’ll fade from cities entirely.

As the movement has grown in recent years, observers have pondered how powerful a tool land banks can be. This question will always be a hazy one because the services land banks can offer are always contingent upon their authority, and how that authority is exercised.

For instance, Ohio is one of the only states that allows land banks to be involved in code enforcement. How this enhanced purview plays out in Cleveland is that the Cuyahoga Land Bank “blocks speculators, ensures that responsible occupants take control of homes, and holds home rehabilitations to proper standards,” according to HUD.

The book aims, in light of such nuances, to better inform readers about the statutes behind those powers, and how to craft them to their locality’s best advantage.

To understand why Alexander hopes these tactics expire one day, this warning from the new edition of Land Banks and Land Banking is a good place to start:

“There is a dangerous tendency for local governments to look at land banks as the complete solution to the challenges they face. Such a dream, however, is often neither accurate with respect to the underlying facts nor realistic with respect to the necessary solutions. If a local government lacks the internal capacity to manage substandard properties, then creating a land bank whose staff will consist of the existing city agencies or departments will not change the outcome.”

Land banks actually will show their ultimate utility, Alexander contends, as a tool to diagnose governmental and policy weaknesses that make the fight against land vacancy more difficult — where tax reform might be needed, which agencies aren’t quite working in concert together or which metros should be working on the dilemma as a region, to give a few examples. With these problems more visible, officials and lawmakers should be able to rectify them, leading to new statutes and more efficient agencies to foster a healthier built environment.

And so, that ideal necessitates that successful land banks will spur their own obsolescence down the line. “Our hope is that one day land banks, and land banking — in all jurisdictions — will be in a position to declare victory and dissolve themselves as independent governmental entities,” the report reads.

But beyond this, Alexander is clear that his ideal is just that, an ideal: “One of the fascinating things about human nature is its infinite creativity, but what lies within its infinite creativity is the infinite capacity to screw up.” He adds, “We try to structure land banks to minimize the risk of human error and human bad judgement, and we do that by insisting on full transparency … but nonetheless there will be some strange decisions made. What we’re trying to do at Community Progress is constantly learn from all the land banks.”

The questions that go along with Alexander’s template are huge: What are the city’s community development goals? What type of governmental entity will the land bank technically be? How will auctions take place? These issues, the report asserts, must be tailored to the community’s needs. And Alexander knows well that that’s the tricky part.

“I have the luxury, in a sense, of sitting back and drafting the state legislation,” says Alexander. “But the real hard work happens on the local level when you have a particular piece of property … the tough work is ‘Okay, now we’ve got the inventory, we’ve got the power. Are we ready to move forward?‘”

Read From Source Here.

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Group begins counting every abandoned property in Cleveland by walking every street in the city: Mark Naymik (Plain Dealer)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jeremy Taylor and Jimmy Brookins are getting to know the streets of Cleveland better than most of the city’s politicians.

With an iPad in hand, they are walking every street, and photographing every house, business and empty lot in search of abandoned properties. They are also recording information – such as the condition of the roofs and porches — and assigning a letter grade to each house. The information is uploaded instantly to a cloud-based database.

Taylor and Brookins, who both live in Cleveland and are in their 20s, are one of eight pairs of people, or teams, pounding the pavement every day for about seven hours. The teams hope to visit all of the city’s 158,000 properties by the end of September, which means they collectively need to check more than 2,000 properties a day. They started this week on the city’s East Side, in North Collinwood, and are working west.

The information they collect will produce Cleveland’s first-ever citywide property survey that is based on visual inspections rather than solely on property records.

The purpose is to give the city a more accurate picture of how many abandoned properties haunt its streets and the condition of the surrounding homes. With such information, the city can better spend limited demolition money, especially with the larger neighborhood in mind.

I’m typically skeptical of surveys, studies and reports. Taxpayers pay thousands for reports that are often poorly conceived and quickly forgotten. I believe this one is simple enough to actually be useful, if only to give us the a real number of abandoned properties.

I’ve heard city housing officials and experts say the number of abandoned properties in the city ranges from 8,000 to 15,000. And Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration has done several of its own surveys of abandoned properties in the city. But these are based largely on city information kept in-house, such as which properties have no utilities connected.

The organization conducting the latest survey is the nonprofit Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which has conducted similar on-the-ground surveys in Akron, Lorain, East Cleveland and elsewhere through its Thriving Communities Institute. The conservancy believes the information about abandoned properties is so important that it launched the Cleveland survey before fully raising the more than $200,000 needed to cover the costs. The Cleveland Foundation has made a sizable commitment to the project. The City of Cleveland doesn’t have any money to kick in, but the city’s Building and Housing Department is lending its expertise by, among other things, helping to train the survey takers on how to evaluate properties.

Jim Rokakis, who is director of the conservancy’s Thriving Community Initiative and has become a prophet of sorts on the housing crisis, said demolitions are critical to a city’s rebirth.

“As demolitions go up, foreclosures go down,” he said, drawing two imaginary lines in the air to simulate a graph.

The technical guru behind the project is the conservancy’s Paul Boehnlein, who built the database and monitors the information in real time. He managed the conservancy’s other surveys, including a small one in the city’s Mount Pleasant area in 2014 that was paid for by the St. Luke’s Foundation. That survey found about 1,100 abandoned properties among the 13,500 surveyed. He said the teams will again canvass the area to provide a view of how quickly housing conditions change.

To see things for myself, I caught up with Taylor and Brookins on Wednesday morning, in Collinwood, on Alhambra Avenue. As they worked the street in bright orange T-Shirts with the words “Cleveland Street Survey,” people on porches wanted to know why they were photographing houses. The explanation triggered enthusiasm.

Seventeen-year resident Vanessa Windham said she is happy someone is paying attention. She then told Brookins about the raccoons that live in the abandoned house next to hers and pointed out another abandoned house a few doors down.

As I looked at the houses, some signs of abandonment were obvious, such as boarded windows and busted front doors. But other rundown homes were harder to evaluate. I kept thinking that one man’s sagging soffits and damaged roof is another man’s castle.

Making that right call will be key to creating an accurate database and that’s why the survey takers received training.

Even with training, Taylor and Brookins and the others house counters have a long road ahead of them.

Read it from the source.

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New initiatives give Cleveland-area vets the support and respect they deserve: editorial (

The debt owed our nation’s military veterans, including those who stormed ashore on Normandy’s beaches 71 years ago this weekend, will never be paid.

But two recent local initiatives that focus on housing, health and justice for those wounded warriors who find the real world harder to navigate than a minefield are a welcome down payment.

Later this month, a Veterans Treatment Court will begin to offer Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges an innovative sentencing alternative for felons who served their country.

And last month, the “Healthy Communities Initiative – Veterans Housing Project” – a joint venture of Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services and the Cuyahoga Land Bank — began renovating 10 residential units for veterans in Collinwood, across St. Clair Avenue from one of the health network’s clinics.

The land bank donated the properties to the federally funded community health nonprofit, said land bank president Gus Frangos. The land bank also invested $50,000 to help offset the estimated $500,000 it will cost to rehab the properties. Doors are expected to open by May 2016.

The project will provide safe, affordable housing to homeless vets and their families and easy access to health care. There are approximately between 1,500 and 1,700 veterans who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless each year in Cuyahoga County, according to the local Department of Veterans Affairs office.

It is exactly the kind of community program that Common Pleas Judge Michael Jackson, who will preside over the Veterans Treatment Court, may tap. The vet-centric court will initially take on a docket limited to 60 men and women veterans convicted of felonies who are on — or eligible for — probation, said Jackson, a Vietnam Marine vet.

Veterans must volunteer for the program and sign a participant agreement. Each will be assigned a mentor who is also a veteran. They will meet every two weeks beginning June 25.

The court will focus on treating substance abuse and mental health issues as well as job training and housing. Each session will include a Legal Aid attorney and VA representatives.

Those vets not eligible for VA benefits because of an other-than-honorable discharge from the military will be matched with appropriate community programs, Jackson said.

“We want you to succeed,” Jackson said of the vets.

And that is a wonderful pledge to all area veterans.

Read from source here.


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Veteran Finds New Home While Practicing Tai Chi

A tai chi instructor led retired Navy Veteran, Kevin Granfors, down the path of home ownership. Granfors, who served three years active duty and in the reserves, learned about the HomeFront Veterans Home Ownership Program (HomeFront program) during his regular practice at Crooked River Tai Chi in Parma.Land Bank Staff
Interested in purchasing his own home, Granfors contacted the Cuyahoga Land Bank and quickly learned he qualified for the HomeFront program.  The program allows veterans interested in purchasing either a move-in fully renovated home or a home that will be renovated with the assistance of the Cuyahoga Land Bank.
Finding a new home was easy as well. Granfors, a maintenance supervisor at the Northeast Ohio Regional SewLand Bank Staff er District, was on a work assignment when he noticed a home for sale in a nice, quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn. The home was recently renovated with the assistance of the Cuyahoga Land Bank. Granfors, who enjoys working on cars and rides motorcycles during his free time, described his new house as “a garage with three bedrooms.”
“I was able to purchase a move-in ready house in a great neighborhood,” said Granfors. “The Cuyahoga Land Bank made the home buying process simple and easy to navigate.”
The HomeFront program launched in November of 2013 with a $100,000 grant from the Cuyahoga County Council’s Veterans Services Fund and $100,000 of support from the Cuyahoga Land Bank.

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Posted in 2015.5.2, Newsletter

Fun Fact

The HomeFront Veterans Home Ownership Program and Veterans’ Affordable HouLand Bank Staff sing Initiative has assisted over ten veterans with their housing needs since the initiatives have launched.  The HomeFront program offers assistance for veterans to become homeowners. For further details on veterans interested in purchasing, please visit our website.

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Posted in 2015.5.2, Newsletter


CLEVELAND, OH – May 28, 2015: Today the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services (NEON) broke ground at East 152nd Street in Collinwood to provide housing for veterans as part of the health center’s Healthy Communities Initiative.

Local City of Cleveland officials, including Council Members Michael D. Polensek and Jeffrey Johnson, as well as other supporters gathered to launch the Program this morning.

Located in the Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland and directly across the street from NEON’s Collinwood Health Center, the Veterans Housing Project is designed to provide safe, affordable and desirable living spaces for veterans and their families. Residents of the property will have access to support and health services provided by NEON as well as the Veterans Medical Center in University Circle.

“Our veterans and their families deserve to live in a safe, supportive and healthy environment,” said Willie F. Austin, president and chief executive officer, Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services. “This Project provides for a holistic approach to housing. More than just a place to live, we will provide our residents with easy access to support and health services to improve their lives.”

The Cuyahoga Land Bank and NEON are working together to make quality affordable housing available for homeless veterans.  “It’s an important work that needs to be done, there is a growing need as each year goes by,” said Matthew Fitzsimmons, NEON Board Chair, who also mentioned getting a lot of inspiration in helping achieve the overall mission of NEON. The Cuyahoga Land Bank helped NEON acquire the property (two vacant and abandoned buildings) that NEON, through its development entity, Community Integrated Services will renovate and manage at a cost of more than $500,000.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank also contributed $50,000 to the project. Once complete, the property will feature 10 housing units, including 6 two-level row houses and a four-unit apartment building. All of the homes will include green amenities, such as energy efficient furnaces and energy-saving double-pane windows and insulated doors.

“The Veterans Project will help improve our neighborhood by restoring value to once abandoned and vacant properties and by creating modern, stable and affordable housing,” said City of Cleveland Councilman Michael D. Polensek.

“The men and women who serve our country have made many sacrifices,” said Cuyahoga Land Bank President Gus Frangos. “Providing veterans with affordable housing and support through programs like this is just one way of saying thank you.”

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Posted in Press Release

Homes for Homeless Heroes

A new partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries will provide permanent affordable housing for the hundreds of homeless veterans living throughout Cuyahoga County. The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative will “match” homeless veterans with affordable, renovated homes giving the veterans a permanent address and chance to live independently.
With help from the Cuyahoga Land Bank, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries acquired a vacant East Cleveland home last year. The Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries ‘Old Timers’ veterans grLand Bank Staff oup made a major contribution in order for this initiative to launch.
The first home in the Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative was completed by, King’s Sons 820, a Christian based workforce development ministry that provides mentoring and construction training for young men and prison re-entry clients.  Six veterans will be welcomed in to the completed home this summer.
“The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative is an excellent example of the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s mission in action,” said Gus Frangos, President and General Counsel of the Cuyahoga Land Bank. “Our homeless veterans deserve their independence and a safe, stable place to call home.”

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Posted in 2015.5.2, Newsletter

Land Bank, NEON partner for housing and health support for vets (

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services (NEON) and the Cuyahoga Land Bank will announce Thursday the creation of a joint effort to provide housing and support services for homeless veterans.

The “Healthy Communities Initiative — Veterans Housing Project” involves the renovation of six, two-level row houses and a four-unit apartment building on St. Clair Avenue at Nye Road in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood. The 10 residences are located near NEON’s Collinwood Health Center, and each has three bedrooms.

Gus Frangos, Land Bank president, said the project is “right smack in line with our mission of fixing a house to serve a need in the community — in this case veterans housing and access to health care for veterans.

“When you get something like this that all of a sudden transforms that corner, it not only fixes a building but fixes people,” he added.

“Sometimes transportation is an impediment to getting care, so this is a great strategic move on NEON’s part, Frangos continued. “They can say that not only do they have good health care available, but by golly, they have housing nearby, too.”

Frangos said the structures are vacant, and had been abandoned due to tax forfeiture.

He estimated that renovation of the buildings will cost about $500,000. “They’re not so dilapidated that they need to come down,” he said. “They have good bones on them, and all the basic systems are in place, or can be easily transformed.”

Frangos said NEON would be handling the reconstruction. Plans call for installation of new energy-efficient furnaces and/or heat pumps, appliances, double-pane windows and insulated doors.

Renovation should take about six months, and a completion date of May 2016 is scheduled, Frangos said.

In addition to the property, the Land Bank is providing $50,000 in equity for the project, and would become a minority partner with NEON in the limited liability company that would own and operate the rental units, according to Frangos.

The Land Bank has been involved in other housing efforts for veterans including a program offering property discounts to veterans.

Frangos’ son is serving in the Army, “so stuff like this has special meaning,” he noted.

Local agencies have estimated that there are about 1,700 veterans who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless each year in Cuyahoga County.

As for additional veterans housing projects being developed through the partnership, “we are open to some kind of discussion regarding properties that are unproductive near (NEON) health centers, that they’re willing to rehab,” said Dennis Roberts, director of program and property management for the Land Bank.

Karen Butler, NEON chief operating officer, said the Collinwood project is the start  of a possible expansion of the concept, creating housing for veterans near NEON’s seven health centers in the county.

“This is first of what we anticipate to be replicated in other communities and neighborhoods that we serve,” she noted.

Support offered veterans and their families by NEON’s Collinwood Health Center covers what Butler described as “a comprehensive array” of services including adult medicine, optometry, a pharmacy, dental and behavioral health.

Butler said community groups in Collinwood assisted in the project, that will be funded through a variety of sources.

Announcement of the project will be made at 10 a.m. at the housing site, 15300 St. Clair Avenue, across from the health center.

NEON will work with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in selecting potential residents, Butler said. Rent, anticipated to be $800-$900 per month, would be largely subsidized through housing vouchers from the VA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she added.

“We want to help eliminate homelessness among veterans,” Butler said. “We believe all veterans should have a place to call home, as well as access to needed health services, and this project enables us to meet both of those goals.”

Read from the source here.

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Posted in Land Bank Coverage

Help Detroit Land Bank keep the progress going (Detroit Free Press)

The Detroit City Council recently approved the transfer of more than 37,000 city-owned residential properties to the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA). This represents a major milestone in creating the strong infrastructure needed to transform the tens of thousands of vacant properties in the city.

Previously, ownership and management of city property had been spread out across as many as 12 entities. This confusing morass of ownership was a major roadblock for people trying to reuse properties — from the resident trying to plant a garden, to the developer trying to rehab blighted houses. In order to improve this, the Detroit Future City (DFC) framework called for the majority of public land to be brought under one roof, at the DLBA.

Land banks are public entities focused on stabilizing and improving communities by putting problem properties (often vacant, blighted, unmarketable, or foreclosed) back into productive use. They can employ tools such as the ability to acquire properties at low or no cost, expedited title clearance, and discounted property sales — an especially important tool in Detroit, where opportunities for traditional financing can be limited.

Despite the logistically and politically daunting task of negotiating the transfer of tens of thousands of properties from multiple city, county and state entities to the land bank, now, only two years after it was recommended in the DFC framework, DLBA will control the majority of publicly owned land in the city.

To support the DLBA’s property management, the City Council also approved an allocation of $11.8 million. By itself, that is a significant amount of money. But when spread out across all of the properties that the DLBA is about to receive, in addition to the properties it currently manages, it amounts to around $140 per property. Given ongoing maintenance needs — such as mowing, garbage clearance, boarding, let alone the costs to improve the properties through rehabilitation, demolition, or replanting — the DLBA’s expenses far exceed a couple hundred dollars.

Understanding this gap, DLBA has sought additional governmental and private funding with some success. However, it still does not have a dedicated and predictable funding source that meets the scale of its challenges. This is a perennial issue not just for the DLBA, but for land banks throughout the state.

We must explore new opportunities for predictable, dedicated funding for land banks that will enable them to implement bold, longer-term strategies, rather than having to operate with insufficient, unpredictable funding. In Ohio, land banks receive an annual allocation of fees generated from the collection of delinquent property taxes. For the Cuyahoga Land Bank, which manages 1,200 properties, this amounts to around $7 million a year.

The Ohio funding model may not be the solution for Michigan land banks, but represents the type of structural change needed for land banks throughout the state.

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A Soldier’s Happy Homecoming

Sometimes, choosing a home comes down to chemistry and when U.S. Army veteran, David Siebert, first saw the home in the City of Mayfield Heights, it was love at first sight.
He had just come home from the Yongsan District of Seoul, South Korea, where he had served as a Combat Medical Nurse. “I looked in the window and I have to admit, I was a little worried,” he says, laughing. “A huge part of the ceiling was missing – I could see the sky! It was open to the world.”Land Bank Staff
Siebert had chosen the house, though, while he was still overseas. He searched real estate websites for about six months, determined to buy a home near his family in Mayfield Heights, where he was raised. During his search, he came across the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s HomeFront Veterans Home Ownership Program, which featured the house in Mayfield Heights.
“It was so perfect for him,” says Vatreisha Nyemba, Compliance and Monitoring Manager for the Cuyahoga Land Bank. “He stated in his application that, ‘owning a home in Mayfield Heights is a lifetime goal.’ ”
He contacted the Cuyahoga Land Bank right away. “I asked them, ‘How can I make this happen?’ It snowballed from that point.”
But there was work to be done. The house had been vacant for at Land Bank Staff least a year and was in serious disrepair. But the house had “good bones,” said Siebert; built in 1926, it’s on the small side, though it has three bedrooms and sits on a 150-foot-deep lot, adjacent to a baseball field.  The property was located on one of the oldest side streets in Mayfield Heights, “so there’s a lot of history here,” Siebert says.
Obviously the house needed a new roof. The kitchen had to be gutted and re-built from floor to ceiling and a new bedroom and bath were added in the rear. Pipes had burst during the winter, so the house needed new plumbing, new carpet and the electrical system had to be updated. “Every surface got touched,” Siebert says, including an alarm system, a new driveway, garage door and tree trimming.
“I feel really lucky,” says Siebert, now a full-time pre-med student at Notre Dame College in South Euclid. “Not only am I close to my family, but my best friend, a guy I’ve known since we were three or four years old, lives two streets away!”Land Bank Staff
And he can not  say enough good things about the Cuyahoga Land Bank and their commitment to returning veterans. “They want people in my situation to be able to find a home,” he says, “but even without the program that supports veterans, I would have purchased a property with the Cuyahoga Land Bank.”
“I was able to be a full-time student while the Cuyahoga Land Bank rehabilitated the house, and when I walked in and everything was complete! They handed me the key and they practically gift-wrapped it for me!
“The Cuyahoga Land Bank saved me about a year of work,” he adds. “They really took care of me – I don’t ever plan to sell this house,” states Siebert.

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Posted in 2015.5.2, Newsletter

Baltimore Grapples With Blight Quandary (Wall Street Journal)

BALTIMORE—In 2011, the city sold a vacant row house in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood to a developer who promised to restore it within 18 months. It is still boarded up.

“It’s gotten worse,” said 60-year-old Patsy Jones, who rents the attached house next door on North Caroline Street and says rain falling through the vacant home’s collapsed roof regularly soaks her basement.

David Borinsky, who bought the house along with 12 others for $26,000, said he planned to renovate it but the market has proved too weak on Ms. Jones’s block to justify the costs—though he thinks that is starting to change.

Baltimore’s sea of vacant homes is one of many entrenched socioeconomic problems thrust into the national spotlight after last month’s riots following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained in police custody.

Nearly 17,000 homes, or about 8% of the city’s housing stock, are deemed unfit for habitation. That doesn’t include thousands more considered livable but sitting empty. Baltimore’s population of roughly 620,000 has fallen by about 35% since the 1950s, contributing to blight.

Many urban areas grapple with widespread vacancies, which depress values of surrounding homes and are seen as magnets for criminal activity. In recent years, cities and counties across the U.S. have devised new programs to tackle the problem, which housing advocates say worsened with the foreclosure crisis and the 2007-09 recession.

While comprehensive statistics on vacancies across the U.S. aren’t readily available, Baltimore’s record shows the challenges. Between 2010, when it started a new program, and 2013, the city sold 410 vacant houses for rehab; more than 40% don’t have use-and-occupancy permits, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That usually means a house is empty. The Journal limited its analysis to pre-2014 sales, because housing experts say rehabs can easily take a year.

City officials said occupancy-permit figures don’t reflect the progress on some empty homes and stressed the inherent uncertainties in real-estate deals. Still, they conceded missteps and acknowledged they haven’t enforced legal provisions that allow the city to retake homes if developers miss rehab deadlines—but said they are now savvier with developers.

“We didn’t have the capacity to do consistent monitoring,” Deputy Housing Commissioner Julie Day said, adding that her agency recently hired someone to track whether developers follow through.

Baltimore has taken a three-pronged approach to tackling vacancies: enforcing city code more stringently by levying fines and persuading judges to force auctions if owners don’t renovate; demolishing more than 1,500 houses, with hundreds more to be razed in coming years; and marketing some of its own vacant inventory, which accounts for about 15% of the total.

Beefed-up code enforcement has helped turn around the Oliver neighborhood, according to Mr. Borinsky, who said he has rehabbed about 40 houses there in the past several years.

Baltimore officials deserve credit for a higher-than-50% success rate on vacant homes sold by the city, said Frank Alexander, an Emory University law professor who co-founded the Center for Community Progress, a nonprofit that advises local governments on addressing vacant properties. “But they cannot fail to deal with those for which there has been no progress,” he said. While he said he understands officials’ reluctance to take properties back, failing to do so means the problem continues.

In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga Land Bank keeps the deeds of homes it sells until promised work is done. “All you have to do is lock the doors, essentially,” program director Dennis Roberts said. Since 2010, it has sold more than 600 houses that way with few problems, officials said. (Land banks are public or quasi-public entities that manage and sell vacant structures and lots.)

But most cities’ programs rely on post-sale mechanisms to ensure progress: Baltimore puts the deadline in the deed. Ms. Day said some buyers mortgage the homes, making reversion impractical. Some buyers have agreed to give houses back to the city.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano said a focus on whole-block revitalization has yielded successes in several areas of the city, including the transformation of a long-derelict stretch of Broadway north of Johns Hopkins Hospital that he calls “mind-boggling.”

“Anywhere we believe there is a market, we will sell a property,” Ms. Day said.

More than 800 of the city’s 16,745 vacant homes are in Sandtown-Winchester, the site of Mr. Gray’s arrest and some of the worst looting of the protests.

Developer Robert DePonte said he fears lingering damage to Baltimore’s image—made worse by what he called hyperbolic news coverage—could harm his investments and the gains made in the East Baltimore neighborhood where he is working. “It wasn’t a city on fire,” he said.

Mr. DePonte has rehabbed five of the 10 houses he bought from the city in 2012 and 2013. The pace is slow, he said, because this is a side business for him and the work he does is extensive. After sinking $80,000 to $120,000 into each overhaul, he said he now gets monthly rents of $1,200 to $1,800, above the neighborhood average.

Some developers say the city’s packaging of properties complicates their efforts.

In 2010, AHC Greater Baltimore, an affordable-housing developer, set out to revive a block on Violet Avenue near an apartment building it overhauled in northwest Baltimore. City officials agreed to sell there but insisted AHC also buy several other homes blocks away, said its director, Andrew Vincent. Ms. Day said she doesn’t recall requiring the group to purchase them.

Mr. Vincent said it made no sense to tackle three of the others due to surrounding blight. While nearly the entire block of Violet is now renovated, those three remain boarded up.

On North Caroline Street, Ms. Jones said she is tired of having a wet basement in her rental home, a three-story row house built more than a century ago.

Mr. Borinsky said the house next door to hers was in bad shape when he bought it from the city in 2011. Records show the city deemed it unsafe to occupy in 2003. Most houses on the block are occupied, and he said he expects that by the end of this summer, the market will improve to a point where he can seriously explore rehabbing the long-vacant house.

But Mr. Borinsky said such decisions come down to economic considerations.

“I can’t be an arm of the housing department, robotically renovating these houses they let me buy,” he said. “I want to. I try to. It’s not realistic.”

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Land bank may commission cost/benefit analysis (Journal-News)

The Butler County land bank is considering commissioning a cost/benefit analysis, perhaps to be performed by students at Miami University.

There was a brief discussion at the land bank meeting last month and now recently named Executive Director Mike McNamara is taking the thought to the next level. The land bank in Cuyahoga County has released a study that showed in moderate to high functioning markets the benefit to banishing blight ranged from $4.27 to $13.45 per dollar invested in demolishing bad buildings.

“Just over 6,000 demolitions were completed over the study period costing roughly $56.3 million. Findings estimate total demolition benefits at $78.9 million. Suggesting a $22.6 million benefit attributed to demolition activity,” the study reads. “Benefits from demolition activity were shown to accrue primarily in high to moderately functioning markets. Conversely, findings suggest that little real estate equity return is available from demolition activity in weak real estate markets.”

McNamara said he plans to reach out to Hamilton’s Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson — who launched the idea — to see if they can put a proposal together. However he said the land bank doesn’t have a very big budget so alternate funding, possibly from the Local Government Innovation Fund, will also have to be unearthed.

With $2.7 million it received in Moving Ohio Forward grants from the state, Butler County formed a land bank two years ago to deal with blighted buildings. The cities of Hamilton and Middletown each gave $1.1 million to the land bank fund as well. Approximately 500 blighted buildings have been torn down through the land bank program.

Butler County commissioners agreed last summer to siphon 1 percent of delinquent tax and assessment collection funds (DTAC) to bolster the land bank and open up services for the entire county. DTAC funds are late payment penalties on real estate taxes. Nix originally estimated the 1 percent would garner about $155,000, but the commissioners approved a $175,000 transfer to the land bank a few weeks ago.

The cities are now in the process acquiring blighted buildings to qualify for $2 million from the Hardest Hit federal program. The new program will allow the cities to down about 100 additional homes. McNamara said in Hamilton 215 properties were demolished with Moving Ohio Forward monies and 45 have been re-purposed. Middletown up until point has not assumed ownership of any properties because officials said the city shouldn’t be in the real estate business, but McNamara said that is about to change.

“Middletown doesn’t have that ownership interest to where they can re-purpose the properties right now. But under our other funding programs Middletown is starting to take ownership of the properties they are acquiring now, so they are going to have more of an interest in building those relationships and re-purposing the properties,” he said. “I have met with Middletown and they do want to get their neighborhoods looking good.”

Back in Hamilton, the city has demolished a blighted property on Hanover Street adjacent to St. Joseph Catholic Church so the church can add more parking, they banished a brothel/drug house that was next to a playground and a Habitat for Humanity house is rising up in the 300 block of 10th Street.

John “Doc” Saurber, field operations manager Habitat, was at the two-story, three bedroom house under construction last week and he said the land bank’s work has really benefited the charity.

“We get some properties from other communities as well,” he said. “But Hamilton and Butler County have been really good to work with.”

Middletown has a direct benefit project in the works right now also. Foreclosure proceedings have begun on a wreck of a property in the 3400 block of Tytus Avenue next to a veterinarian business All About Pet Care, owned by Dr. Matthew Heller. Middletown officials have said Heller wants the mustard yellow home razed — he has offered to pay for the demolition — so he can remove the eyesore and expand. All the land bank has to do is clean the title on this project.

Heller wrote a lengthy letter to the city asking for help. He noted multiple code violations and safety hazards and said his clients and others are constantly asking about the “scary” residence next door. He said he has tried to work with the owner to no avail.

“I am sure that you can understand how frustrating this situation can be for me and my business,” the doctor wrote. “I want nothing more than to have a business which myself, my employees and my clients can be proud of and are not distracted by dilapidated buildings surrounding us. Most importantly, I feel that this property is not only a poor representation of our community , but also unsafe for it.”

Heller also noted the National Association of Realtor maintains “an eyesore can shave 10 percent off the value of a nearby listing.” The Cuyahoga study showed ridding functioning markets of blight has the biggest return on investment, a Butler County study might not show as much bang for the buck because they have been concentrating mainly on bad areas.

“The whole concept is we don’t want to get involved in areas where the market will take care of itself. That’s always been the board’s attitude as well as the commissioners,” he said. “The directive is we go after the stuff nobody else wants and try to make it marketable again by cleaning the title and even demolishing the structures, so there is nothing standing in the way of somebody getting back into it.”

As for the cost/benefit study McNamara said he would love to work with the university if they are willing.

“I haven’t used Miami for anything in the past,” he said. “But this is a new open chapter. I’m willing to write it however it’s willing to be written.”

Utilizing Miami students for projects isn’t new either. The vet board just received it’s marketing study from a group of students in the Pi Sigma Epsilon marketing and sales fraternity. Middletown has contacted the university in Oxford to see if they want to help market the county’s airports. And County Administrator Charlie Young said the county had students help them do research on their tax increment financing districts.

“Miami is an incredibly valuable resource. Not only do these kind of interactions pay dividends for the government agency that Miami is servicing, but it gives these students valuable experience,” he said.

Madison Weber, who headed the team from Pi Sigma Epsilon, said the real life experience was awesome.

“This is a great way to apply things that we learn, both theory based and in the classroom, to real actual experience,” she said. “It’s a better way to understand how those principles apply to real life.


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Event May 28th, 2015-Helping End Veterans Homelessness

A press event for the project will be held at 10am on Thursday May 28th, 2015 at 15300 St. Clair Land Bank Staff Avenue Cleveland, Ohio 44110 .  The event will announce, Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, (NEON) first planned Healthy Communities Initiative in partnership with the Cuyahoga Land Bank to renovate ten residential units in the Collinwood Neighborhood.  NEON’s goal is to provide safe, affordable and desirable living spaces with access to health services for veterans and their families.

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Soldier’s Homecoming | Homeless Heroes | Veterans New Home – Memorial Day Veterans Feature

Veterans Feature

Posted in 2015.5.2, Newsletter

Rocky River to apply for $3 million state grant for Center Ridge Road traffic study (

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio –- The city is applying for a $3 million state grant to pay for a traffic study on Center Ridge Road.

The study is necessary to upgrade traffic signals and keep up with new development on the busy road that connects commercial, school and residential areas, Mayor Pamela Bobst said.

“We want to support the investments we see today and future investments in the area by having a roadway that functions well,” the mayor said.

A new $29 million 264-unit high-end apartment building at Wooster Road opened to residents in 2014. Goldwood Primary School is on Center Ridge, as is Westgate Town Center. The city has also received a $304,000 grant from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to tear down the old Executive Club at 21330 Center Ridge, a site that Bobst said is almost 2 acres of prime commercial real estate.

“The study will analyze traffic flow and do a traffic count along Center Ridge Road, where we have a lot of points of egress and ingress and a lot of curb cuts,” Bobst said. “We want a good, safe traffic flow and accessibility to our high traffic areas and adjacent residential areas.”

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency denied the city’s application for similar funding a year ago, but the mayor is hopeful that this year will be different.

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Developer J. Shorey plans to turn a vacant foundry into a fish farm, arts complex (

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Central and Fairfax neighborhoods lost an estimated 100 jobs in 2012 when T&B Foundry closed a storied metal casting plant in a foreclosure process that left the eight-acre property vacant, shuttered and saddled with nearly $2 million in liens.

Now Cleveland Heights entrepreneur J. Duncan Shorey has a proposal to transform the plant at 2469 East 71st St. at Platt Avenue with an unusual mix of overlapping uses including a fish farm, an orchard, a studio center for artists, a farmers market, a cooking school and a computer server farm.

The Foundry Project, as he calls it, would encapsulate hot themes in Cleveland redevelopment including sustainability, urban agriculture and the arts as a place-making tool, plus the drive to build social equity by creating jobs in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Also part of the potential mix are federal and state historic tax credits, which Shorey said he hopes to pursue in the restoration of the century-old foundry building, which towers six stories over vacant lots just east of Woodland Cemetery.

“I have an exciting vision, and I have found a group of people who are receptive and who have agreed to help me pursue the vision,” Shorey said last week during an interview at the foundry site, which he acquired in March from the Cuyahoga Land Bank.

Shorey said he is close to securing financing on the first element of the project, a $4.5 million, 40,000-square-foot high-tech fish farm building in which he’d produce thousands of pounds a week of live branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass. A second 40,000-square-foot building would follow after the first is up and running, he said.

Shorey’s goal is to launch the fish farm late this year, in time to serve fresh branzino during the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016.

And he said he could get the computer data center, or server farm, up and running in six months, once a customer is identified.

The rest of the project could take longer, depending on financing and demand. Total investment in the project could run $15 million to $25 million, including $6 million to remove asbestos from the six-story T&B factory building and to restore it, Shorey said.

His investment so far, not counting the value of unpaid time spent by Shorey and his partners, amounts to $100,000, he said.

Shorey and partners including horticulturalist Jay Szabo and Curt Witchey, the chief financial officer for the project, have designed the project with a series of economic and environmental feedback loops that would knit the fish farm together with other elements of the project.

In sum, the project would:

-      Use 5 percent of profits expected from fish farming, or $50,000 to $100,000 a year, to support the nonprofit studio center on three upper floors of the renovated T&B building.

-      Tap into the fiber-optic trunk line buried next to the adjacent Norfolk & Southern rail line to provide high-speed Internet access for a new data center, or server farm, to be located on the property.

-      Use waste heat from the server farm to provide energy and reduce utility bills for the fish farm.

-      Use waste harvested from the fish farm to fertilize fruit grown in an orchard and greenhouse operation on site.

-      Involve the neighborhood by providing jobs, a cooking school and a weekly farmers market to improve what Shorey called a food desert.

Skeptics might scoff at Shorey’s vision, but he has established a record of momentum and buy-in during the two-and-a-half years that he’s spent on the project.

The county land bank, for example, helped Shorey clear $1.8 million in liens against T&B held by PNC Bank and the state of Ohio for workman’s compensation claims, according to land bank lawyer Doug Sawyer.

Cuyahoga County’s Department of Economic Development spent nearly $39,000 on a Phase II environmental survey for the project, which Shorey said indicates that soils on the property are safe for farming.

And Shorey has secured letters of intent from Maximum Seafood, a Toronto-area live fish broker and from Sweetwater Springs Fish Farms in northern Indiana to buy a large percentage of his production of branzino.

Shorey said he’s sharing the letters with potential lenders and investors, along with letters of endorsement from Cleveland chefs Karen Small, owner of Ohio City’s Flying Fig restaurant and bar; and Doug Katz, chef-owner of Fire Food and Drink in Shaker Square.

“To have somebody locally doing aquaculture in our own backyard is something pretty exciting that I would support,” Katz said Monday. “I would certainly buy the fish [from Shorey] for my restaurant.”

Ward 5 Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, who has followed Shorey’s progress since 2013, said Monday, “I’m a believer.”

And Grafton Nunes, president of the Cleveland Institute of Art, the city’s independent, four-year art college, said Monday he was intrigued by Shorey’s proposal to turn the top three floors of the Foundry building into a studio center for artists with infrastructure including a glass-blowing furnace.

“It’s a worthwhile social and economic experiment, and I’m happy to work with him on it,” Nunes said of Shorey’s vision.

Shorey estimated that Ohio has roughly 300 fish farms, most of which are small, pond-based operations, he said.

The Rid-All Green Partnership at East 81st Street and Otter Road established a fish farm in recent years that produces tilapia, but a spokesman, who asked that his name not be used, declined to comment Monday on the farm’s weekly production and whether demand exists for a second, large-scale operation in the city.

Shorey, however, is convinced strong demand exists locally and across the Great Lakes region for the 500,000 pounds a year of branzino he ultimately plans to produce.

A lawyer and president and CEO of the Foundry Project and Northcoast Fish Farm LLC, Shorey learned about the T&B property during the mid-1990s when he served as environmental compliance officer for Oglebay Norton Corp., which bought the forging company in the 1970s and then later sold it back to its previous owners.

Shorey said T&B — formerly known as Taylor & Boggis — experienced difficulties in the 2000s when the customer base for its cast-metal products evaporated.

“It’s just the way the world’s economy is changing,” he said.

But he said he remained intrigued with the T&B property and began exploring ways to acquire it and put it back to productive use.

When asked what would happen if he only gets the first fish farm building built, and the rest of the property lies dormant, Shorey said that’s not his plan.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” he said. “That’s the short answer. The long answer is we’ve built what we think is a pretty robust business plan that we think will get us there.”

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Artists will transform vacant Slavic Village houses in second-annual ‘Rooms to Let’ exhibition (

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Following its success in 2014, the “Rooms to Let: Cleveland” exhibition is returning to the Broadway Slavic Village neighborhood Saturday and Sunday.

Organized by Slavic Village Development, the show aims to promote public debate over vacancy and the struggles of city neighborhoods in the wake of the foreclosure crisis and the 2008-09 recession.

Some 40 visual and performance artists have been invited by a team of curators to use vacant houses scheduled for demolition as a palette for temporary installations.

The event, free and open to the public, will also feature hands-on art activities sponsored by the Broadway School of Music and the Arts and Zygote Press Mobile Press, plus live music performed by ensembles including the Cleveland Orchestra.

Hours for the event are 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Event maps will be available at 7019 Fullerton Ave., at the corner of East 71st Street and Fullerton.

Curators for the event include Sai Sinbondit, a designer at Bialosky+Partner Architects and a faculty member at the Cleveland Institute of Art; Amy Krusinski Sinbondit, a ceramics/sculpture artist and adjunct faculty member at the art institute; artists Dana Depew and Scott Pickering; Rian Brown, a filmmaker, video artist and associate professor at Oberlin College; and Rebecca Cross, a textile artist and adjunct professor at Kent State University.

Commenting on the show in a news release, Depew said: “Participating artists and curators enact their vision in order to give these spaces a proper eulogy.”

Participating artists include Mona Gazala, Megan Louise Pitcher, Tina Ripley, Meg Matko, Kelsey Moulton, Megan Elk, Mallorie Freeman, Lauren Sammon, Loren Naji, Jeffry Chiplis, Paul Sydorenko and Jose Carlos Texiera.

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Rep. Kaptur Celebrates $4.9 Million State Housing Initiative Support for Northern Ohio (RealEstateRama)

Ohio Housing Finance Agency will address blighted, vacant properties in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lucas counties Toledo, OH – May 6, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Today Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur celebrated the allocation of $4,968,105.61 by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) to assist Northern Ohio land banks through its Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP). Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation will receive $2,699,071.83, Lorain County Land Reutilization Corporation will receive $269,033.78 and Lucas County Land Reutilization Corporation will receive $2,000,000.00. “This initiative will go a long way to reducing blighted properties and stabilizing home values in communities across Northern Ohio,” said Rep. Kaptur. “This is an important step to begin the healing process in neighborhoods that were impacted by the recent economic downturn. Partnering with these three successful county land banks helps put these properties back into circulation, giving them a fresh start and getting the surrounding neighborhoods back on track. Thank you to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and the U.S. Treasury Department for supporting these important initiatives.” The maximum amount of assistance per property is $25,000 with an estimated average amount of assistance of $12,000. Awardees are responsible for all aspects of the property acquisition and removal as well as plans for greening and ongoing maintenance of the property. Nearly 800 blighted structures have been removed with more than 100 units pending approval as a result of the first and second rounds of funding; and more than 60 lots have been transferred and greened. Thus far, NIP has disbursed and reserved $10 million. At the current funding levels, OHFA expects to eliminate 5,500 vacant and blighted units by October 2016. “Through blight elimination we have increased our impact to not only stem the tide of foreclosures in critical neighborhoods, but to proactively preserve homeowner equity and enable our communities to wholly recover from the effects of the foreclosure crisis,” said Doug Garver, executive director of OHFA. “NIP is not a deviation from, but rather an expansion of, our foreclosure prevention investment.”

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Cuyahoga Land Bank Homeowner Feature

Willie Bethune recently participated in the Deed-In-Escrow Program and purchased a three bedroom home in the BroadLand Bank Staff way-Slavic Village neighborhood. Willie shared about his successful purchase and says “It was a really good experience and a great learning experience to be able to see all phases of the renovation project to completion.  Everything was very straight forward in working with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and I am happy to be a first time homeowner.” The Cuyahoga Land Bank wishes Willie best of luck with his new home!


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Fun Fact!

Every year the Broadway-Slavic Village neighborhood hosts their annual Neighborhood Summit that brings togetherLand Bank Staff dedicated community stakeholders, and awards residents and organizations for their hard work.  This year the Cuyahoga Land Bank was acknowledged at the event and awarded Outstanding Service and Commitment to Slavic Village. There were numerous residents, organizations, and city partners that attended who made an impact on improving Broadway Slavic Village neighborhood focused on “Historic Foundation: Buildings Blocks for the Future”.

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Did You Know?

Spring is here and the Cuyahoga Land Bank NIP Greening Program is now in full force!  The program is made possible by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP).  The program works along with the Cuyahoga LanLand Bank Staff d Bank Side Yard Program to beautify the vacant lots adjacent to residents’ homes. The lots eligible for the program will be improved through additional landscaping, trees and fencing. The program will not only beautify vacant lots but also add to the aesthetics of the street, stabilize surrounding properties, and offer neighbors healthy green space for passive and active recreation.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank is excited that the NIP Greening Program is underway.  The program is a great opportunity to transform vacant lots into vibrant places! For any questions on the program please reach out to Lilah Zautner, Manager of Special Projects and Land Reuse, at 216-698-8853 or

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Dogs Need a Nice Home, Too

Just hearing the name of Frank Kuhar’s housing development firm—“Revived Housing Inc.”—tells you his philosophy about run-down properties. He knows some have to be demolished, but he would much rather give them new life if he can, letting them “age in place,” he says.
So when he heard of an abandoned building in an industrial section of South Euclid, he staLand Bank Staffrted thinking of how it could be reborn.
“This building had been vacant for at least ten years,” says Michael Love, Economic Development Director for the City of South Euclid. “It was tax delinquent, the owner wasn’t maintaining it and it was in foreclosure.”  That’s when the Cuyahoga Land Bank stepped in to help acquire the building.
Kuhar looked at the building and saw its potential but, he says, “It was in pretty bad shape. It had been neglected, squatters had been inside—it could have been a demo—but I had a notion it could be a good home for DogTropolis.” He knew DogTropolis very well; he’d been taking his Yellow Lab, Haley, to DogTropolis Doggy Daycare (formerly DogTopia) for years. Kuhar mentioned the space to the DogTropolis owner Connie Karlowicz (a.k.a. “Top Dog”) and they visited the building that same afternoon.Land Bank Staff
“It’s double the size of our old location in Cleveland Heights a total of, 8,000 square feet,” she says. “I went home and sketched a layout that night in my kitchen. Frank let me design the whole thing so that it fit my businesses needs” said Connie.  Her doggy guests are thrilled with their new digs; they have a 3,500-square-foot playroom, a huge fenced outdoor play area and oversized kennels for overnight stays.
It’s been an exciting project for Kuhar as well. “It has a vaulted ceiling, steel roof trusses, 14-foot-high walls—kind of retro, a cool industrial look,” he says. The work, he adds, was “pretty much an overhaul” which included new heating and cooling systems, windows, garage doors, flooring and plumbing. He laid a concrete pad behind the building for the play area and built offices and a reception space. Soon he will install energy-efficient lighting because, he says, “I try to be responsible about conserving energy.”
“The new space is convenient,” he adds, chuckling: “There’s a veterinarian right next door.”
For Karlowicz, even the location is a huge bonus.  “It’s just 1.3 miles down the road,” she says.  “I lost no clients, and gained some new ones!”

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One South Euclid names new executive board, renews agreement with city: Council meeting recap (

The city’s community development corporation One South Euclid has appointed a new board president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, and wants to triple the size of its board of directors.

Council renewed the city’s three-year agreement with One South Euclid at its meeting Monday. The organization plans to roll out additional programs this year under its new strategic plan, community services director and ex-officio One South Euclid board member Keith Benjamin said.

Here’s a look at council’s actions Monday.

One South Euclid: Karen Poelking, vice-president for board and community relations at Notre Dame College, is the new president of One South Euclid.

The organization’s new vice-president is Yvonne Sanderson, former executive director of the Heights-Hillcrest Chamber of Commerce and owner of Focal Plane Photography, an aerial photography business in South Euclid.

Longtime resident and Argonne-Avondale Neighborhood Group founder Pam O’Toole is the new secretary and Austen Welter, a pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, is treasurer.

The non-profit, founded in 2007, receives homes from the city and the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and works to sell them to buyers who pledge to occupy the homes or sell them to owner-occupants. One South Euclid has also opened multiple community gardens and hosts neighborhood festivals and events.

Benjamin, who cannot vote on the board, said this year is the first One South Euclid has money to spend. He said the group will seek the community’s input on new programs, which could include: offering grants to help seniors or low-income resident repair their homes or loans for businesses planning to upgrade or expand.

Environmental assessment: Developer DFS Management LLC is seeking a brownfield redevelopment grant from Cuyahoga County to build a new medical office building at 14141 Cedar Road. The company is considering investing $905,000 in the site and renting the space to University Heights Dental and other businesses.

Council unanimously approved the company’s application with the county Monday.

Road tax: Council is considering asking voters to renew a road repair property tax.

Engineer Andy Blackley urged residents and council to support the 2.5-mill, five-year levy Monday and said the city would not be able to resurface roads without the money.

The tax has been on the books since the 1980s and costs owners of $100,000 homes $250 each year.

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Clearing Away Asbestos-Not As Easy As You Think!

When Kenneth Tyson left his job as Property Specialist at the Cuyahoga Land
Bank, he wasn’t leaving demolition work—in fact, he’s now working with demolitions more than ever.
This past fall the Cuyahoga Land Bank founded CLB Services, an environmental services company. Kenneth Tyson became Co-Founder and Executive Director of CLB Services. And for both Tyson and the Cuyahoga Land Bank, this new enterprise is a win-win situation.Land Bank Staff
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” he says.  Tyson was a business entrepreneur before coming to work at the Cuyahoga Land Bank.  The decision to start a new company was twofold – one part cost savings, one part problem solving.
Prior to creating CLB Services, the Cuyahoga Land Bank contracted with a dozen or so environmental services companies for asbestos survey work.  “They all did business a little differently, each having a different reporting format and varying turnaround times for completing surveys,” says Gus Frangos, President and General Counsel. “It raised the question: what if we (Cuyahoga Land Bank) worked with less companies? It would boost production and efficiency, and reduce costs for the Cuyahoga Land Bank. And that thought process led to conversations about creating CLB Services.” According to Frangos, the brain-child of CLB Services, this was a way to professionally do survey work and permit a residual profit from these services to flow back to the Cuyahoga Land Bank mission.
But starting a new company doesn’t happen overnight. Tyson had to undergo several weeks of field training, 40 hours of in-class training, and then pass an exam to obtain state certification, before he could complete his first asbestos survey.  Mr. Tyson first hired another former Cuyahoga Land Bank staff member, Matt Bobel, an asbestos analyst, who “spendLand Bank Staffs the majority of his time in the field,” Tyson says.
“Matt surveys each property by identifying all homogenous materials at the site.  He then collects samples of each material based on its condition and quantity.  Once all samples have been collected, they are sent to a lab for analysis.” says Tyson.
If the lab finds more than a one percent asbestos, he adds, “asbestos containing material must be removed prior to demolition.”
Later this year, CLB will begin offering asbestos removal services, streamlining the demolition process further.
The Cuyahoga Land Bank is CLB’s biggest client, and Tyson sees only room for growth. The City of Cleveland is also a CLB Services client. “The Cuyahoga Land Bank will partner with municipalities all over Cuyahoga County,” he says. “CLB Services would like to provide abatement services to all Cuyahoga Land Bank partner communities—and we know that cities in neighboring counties have similar challenges.”
“For now, our focus is on completing surveys and getting them to the City of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga Land Bank in a timely manner. That’s why this is a good marriage,” says Tyson.
If your organization or community is in need of asbestos surveys, please reach out to Kenneth Tyson, Executive Director, at 216-307-6001 or for more details.

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Attorney General’s Moving Ohio Forward Program Supports 3,500 Demolitions

Land Bank Staff On February 27th, Ohio General Attorney Mike DeWine held a press conference in Columbus to announce the results of his Moving Ohio Forward (MOF) demolition program. From 2012 through 2014, this important statewide program resulted in 3,500 demolitions in Cuyahoga County. The Cuyahoga Land Bank received $12.8 million in MOF grant funds and this $12.8 million was matched with an additional $11.3 million provided through the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s normal operating budget and a $5 million grant from then County Prosecutor Bill Mason. The Cuyahoga Land Bank, in turn, granted $8.4 million of these funds to the City of Cleveland to support their demolition efforts.
Cuyahoga Land Bank’s Chairman Tony Brancatelli participated in the press conference, praising this much needed effort. “This program, coming when it did, was extremely vital to our communities,” said Brancatelli. The funds used for the MOF program were secured by the Attorney General from
legal settlements with five major national lenders. Through the strong advocacy of the
Thriving Communities Institute’s Director, Jim Rokakis, the Attorney General earmarked $75 million of the settlement dollars for demolition. The Thriving Communities Institute is an effort spearheaded by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
It is estimated that 12,000 abandoned structures not including larger multi-family and commercial properties in Cuyahoga County are still in need of demolition. While all the MOF dollars have been expended, much needed demolition activity continues, made possible through the continued strong  advocacy of Mr. Rokakis, along with the professional, efficient demolition work undertaken by both the CLand Bank Staff uyahoga Land Bank and the City of Cleveland.
In the words of Cuyahoga Land Bank President and General Counsel, Gus Frangos, “To rebuild our healthy communities, we first need to perform some painful root canal work. This important work helped increase housing values and the growth of strong communities throughout Cuyahoga County.”

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Moving Ohio Forward | CLB Services | Dogtropolis – 2015.4.1

NL 4.1.15

Posted in 2015.4.1, Newsletter

Former Executive Club building in Rocky River slated for demolition (

Four attached buildings that comprise the former Executive Club at 21330 Center Ridge Road will be razed as the result of a recently awarded property demolition grant.

“We received $304,000,” said Rocky River Law Director Andrew Bemer in a Thursday interview. “This is county money, but the county land bank, which is a freestanding corporation, will act as third-party administrator. They will do all the necessary competitive bidding and practical machine work to get it down. We didn’t have $300,000 sitting in our treasury, so when the county came up with this program, we jumped on it.”

The program is administered through the Cuyahoga County Department of Development and Cuyahoga Land Bank. A Letter to Abate a Public Nuisance was included in the city’s grant application.

Newly emerging property owners have since attempted “creative refinancing” on the “blighted” property, city council meeting minutes indicate. Those owners could demolish the buildings themselves, but Bemer indicated they have had years to remedy the situation and failed to act. Rocky River has six months to complete the demolition process.

Bemer said the 1.9-acre property is worth more without the buildings and has witnessed collapsed ceilings, hanging wires and missing fixtures. Discarded tires and an old television are stacked and hidden in the bushes near a rear door, beside a dilapidated sidewalk.

“Through our fire marshal, we issued a number of warnings and citations, but the principals were located in New Jersey,” Bemer explained, citing prolonged multi-state bank and court involvement for contributing to the four years that have elapsed. “The fire marshal boarded up the property, and there was a property manager involved. The interesting thing is, the property owners have surfaced. I know people are interested in protecting their interests, and we certainly respect that, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to sit on the sidelines now and fold our hands and wait. I’ve been in the building with the fire marshal, and it’s creepy. Let’s get this done.”

More Rocky River buildings likely will encounter the wrecking ball in the future.

“We’ve identified a couple of other properties for the next round (of grant applications, due in May),” Bemer said. “A couple of residences are vacant and in foreclosure.”

City Council needs to pass a resolution to enter into an agreement with the county to execute the demolition. Bemer said he is working with the county law department to get all the necessary documents prepared.

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More homes in county may be razed (Mansfield News Journal)

The Richland County Land Reutilization Corporation hopes to know in about a month if it will receive more funds from the federal Neighborhood Initiative Program that can be used to demolish abandoned homes in the county.

Amy Hamrick, who administers the county land bank for the non-profit corporation, told the corporation board at its meeting Tuesday the county has met a requirement that at least half of money from a $773,750 grant be committed to specific projects by March 31.

Hamrick said the land bank has obtained 43 properties and obligated some $516,000 for demolition under the program, although there are no demolition contracts yet for any of the structures.

The amount obligated is based on NIP’s estimated cost of $12,000 to demolish a home.

Hamrick said the Ohio Housing Financing Agency, which administers NIP, is reviewing reports to determine which counties did not meet the spending guideline. “After that, they’ll be pulling money from counties that did not meet the requirement and reallocating it,” she said.

Hamrick also submitted the final report on the Moving Ohio Forward program, which provided additional funds to demolish blighted properties. Money for the state program came from settlements against mortgage companies.

Hamrick said officials spent just over $1 million to demolish 121 structures at an average cost of $8,667 before the program ended Dec. 31, 2014. The money included $797,150 from the state and $251,568 in matching funds that came mostly from Mansfield’s Community Development Block Grant program.

Statewide, counties removed 14,600 problem units at a cost of $118 million.

In other business, the RCLRC reviewed a letter from Robin Thomas, director of the land bank program for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in Cleveland, asking if the group is interested in joining a group effort to get a letter ruling from the Internal Revenue Service on the tax exempt status for the land bank. Land banks currently have been relying on an opinion from a nationally known law firm provided to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.

Thomas said the private letter ruling from the IRS would provide assurance of the tax exempt status and assure donors their contributions are tax deductible. Estimated cost to the local land bank could be as much as $3,700. The board put off a decision pending a review of the information.

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Ohio county executive recommends $14 million in demolition grants (Construction and Demolition Recycling)

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish had recommended 20 communities for approval in the first round of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Property Demolition Program, which is used to fund the demolition of unsalvageable residential and commercial properties throughout the county. The goal of the program is to strengthen existing communities, accelerate property value growth and restore neighborhoods.
“Addressing vacant and distressed properties is an urgent issue throughout Cuyahoga County,” says Budish. “We are committed to working with communities and housing advocates, side-by-side, to eliminate blight, promote redevelopment and ultimately create stronger neighborhoods.”
The Budish administration identified $14 million, previously allocated for an upgraded data center, to fund the first round of awards. In 2014, the county’s Department of Information Technology planned to pay about $30 million over 25 years for an upgraded data center in the county’s medical examiner’s office. In early 2015, the state of Ohio announced the availability of their data center at a lower estimate of $9.5 million over 25 years. If council approves the new data center, the county will establish a contract with Ohio, saving money on an upgraded data center, as well as freeing up around $14 million in capital funds that can be reallocated to the Property Demolition Program.
“This first round of demolition will remove over 600 blighted, vacant and abandoned structures across the county, providing needed relief to our communities,” says County Council President Dan Brady. “I’d like to thank the County Executive and the County Land Bank for their support in making this program a reality, and I look forward to continuing the momentum that has already begun.”
Budish and Brady say the county is committed to seeing the entire program through, and announced that applications for the next round of funding will be accepted beginning on May 1, 2015.
Twenty-two communities applied to receive funding from the Property Demolition Program. More than $10 million will be awarded to 20 communities to demolish 619 structures. The first round of recommended awards will address about 10 percent of the vacant properties throughout the communities.
The Property Demolition Program, as well as other housing related matters for the county, will be overseen by Ken Surratt. As deputy director of housing, Surratt will be responsible for creating an overarching, comprehensive housing plan for the county and coordinating all housing and foreclosure initiatives.
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Budish Assists Parma Fight Blight: Community Voices (

On Friday, April 10, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish made good on his promise to assist the inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland, including Parma, in demolishing properties that are vacant and distressed.  Recently, he, along with County Council, approved the first round of what is to be a $50 million dollar commitment to suburban communities.  “We are committed to working with communities and housing advocates, side-by-side, to eliminate blight, promote redevelopment and ultimately, create stronger neighborhoods,” Budish stated at a press conference held at the headquarters of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank in Cleveland.

            Cities were required to complete grant applications in hopes of being awarded part of the initial $10 million package.  Most of the communities that applied were awarded funding.  Parma’s successful grant application translates into a $116,400 award, which will be used to eliminate 8 residential homes.  In fact, the grant will provide the funds to demolish the unsafe and unkempt properties located at 1522 Grantwood Drive, 2824 Maplecrest Avenue, 3110 Ingleside Drive, 3425 Brookview Boulevard, 4208 Snow Road, 5735 Bavaria Avenue, 6710 Theota Avenue, and 911 Dawnwood Drive.  Ward Four Councilman Brian Day, who, as City Council’s Safety Committee Chairman, has been a constant advocate of eliminating unsightly and unsafe structures in Parma’s neighborhoods, stated that he is “very pleased that Parma will be a recipient of these demolition funds, as they will help us eliminate some blighted properties that have been an eyesore in our neighborhoods.”

            As President of Parma City Council and an attendee of Budish’s press conference, I was very happy with the announcement on several fronts.  First and foremost, it provides our city with another tool to fight blight in an effort to bolster property values and quality of life in our otherwise stabilizing neighborhoods.  Further, it shows the commitment of Mayor Tim DeGeeter and Parma City Council to seek creative ways of financing local government, given our budget challenges due to state cuts over the years.  It also reveals that Budish is making good on his campaign pledge to assist cities like Parma that are still experiencing the effects of the economic downturn on our housing stock.  At the conclusion of the conference Budish announced that the next round of grants will begin on May 1.

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New money will help fight blight in Cuyahoga County (WOIO)

Millions of our tax dollars are about to be funneled into cleaning up neighborhoods in Cuyahoga County. County Executive Armond Budish wants to remove 619 structures in 20 communities countywide. 

Just take a right or left turn in Cuyahoga County and you will run into a vacant or abandoned property. There are thousands of them. So Cuyahoga County has decided to toss in $10 million to remove a small slice of the vacant property pie. 

“I think the first round alone will clean out something like 10 percent of the blighted houses in our region, which is a big step forward,” said Budish.

“This first round of demolition will remove over 600 blighted, vacant and abandoned structures across the county, providing needed relief to our communities,” added Cuyahoga County Council President Dan Brady. “I’d like to thank the county executive and the county land bank for their support in making this program a reality, and I look forward to continuing the momentum that has already begun.”

Community Award Recommendation Total Structures
Bedford $425,000 8
Bedford Heights $405,000 10
Berea $300,000 3
Brook Park $380,000 38
Cleveland $992,240 73
Cleveland Heights $556,000 49
East Cleveland $1,000,000 107
Euclid $1,000,000 23
Garfield Heights $930,000 92
Lakewood $200,000 2
Maple Heights $908,000 89
Newburgh Heights $525,000 16
Oakwood $204,000 12
Olmsted Falls $25,000 1
Parma $116,400 8
Richmond Heights $100,000 3
Rocky River $304,250 4
Shaker Heights $885,000 20
South Euclid $400,000 40
Warrensville Heights $389,500 21

Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers, who attended the announcement in downtown Cleveland, believes the money is a valuable assist from the county.

“After the housing crisis, there was a lot of blight left around the neighborhoods that brought down property values, which has had a direct financial impact of just about everyone in the community,” said Sellers.

Additional money to tear down more properties is coming soon, but each city must meet a May 1 deadline to apply. 

The county hopes after the removal of the blight, developers will move in to help create stronger neighborhoods. 

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Euclid could get $1 million from Cuyahoga County Property Demolition Program (The News-Herald)

Euclid is being recommended to receive $1 million in the first round of Cuyahoga County Property Demolition Program, one of only two communities recommended for the maximum allotted funding.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced his recommendations for the first round of funding April 10.

Euclid is looking to demolish 23 structures with the recommended funding, 12 residential and 11 commercial. Euclid Planning & Development Director Jonathan Holody said a larger portion of the funding will go toward commercial demolitions.

For commercial demolitions, Holody said the city will start with properties that they already own or control. Those include a former city pool on E. 279th Street and the former Lakeshore Chevy site on E. 185th Street.

Holody said there is a community garden next to the pool site that he thinks the gardeners will be able to expand on and will “remove an eyesore from the neighborhood.”

During a December 2014 council meeting, Councilman Kristian Jarosz referred to the Lakeshore Chevrolet site as an eyesore and said Euclid Hospitals tells people to enter its campus from E. 200th Street and not E. 185th Street.

“They don’t want that vision to be what (the patients) perceive our community to be,” he said.

Some of the commercial demolitions, Holody added, will help make the sites ready more quickly for new development.

Last year, Cuyahoga County Council approved a plan to make $50 million available to its communities to remove blighted structures. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank has been allocated $9 million of the $50 million.

Funds for the program are equally available to all the municipalities in the county, despite previous attempts from representatives from Cleveland and inner-ring suburbs to receive a larger percentage of that funding.

To qualify for demolition, structures must be certified as vacant, abandoned and nuisance properties.

More than $10 million was awarded in the first round of funding to 20 communities to demolish 619 properties according to a news release. In total, 22 communities applied for funding. Applications for the first round of funding were due in late February.

Communities could apply for up to $1 million in funding and no more than $100,000 can be awarded to demolish any individual structure.

East Cleveland is the only other community to receive the full $1 million in funding.

Richmond Heights is receiving $100,000 to demolish three structures in the city.

According to the news release, Budish’s administration has identified $14 million to fund the first round of demolition that was previously allocated for an upgraded data center. The Department of Information Technology planned to pay $30 million over 25 years for an upgraded data center in the Medical Examiner’s Office, but in early 2015, Ohio announced the availability of their data center for $9.5 million over 25 years. County Council still needs to vote on whether to approve a contract with the state for the data center.

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20 cities get Cuyahoga County demolition money (WKYC)

Call it addition by subtraction.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced the county is awarding $10 million-plus spread over 20 communities to demolish 615 decrepit homes and commercial buildings.

It’s the first phase of the county’s $50 million demolition plan to knock down blighted buildings.

Budish acknowledged the energy and new development occurring downtown.

“Now it’s time make sure our neighborhoods share in this renaissance, ” he said.

Bedford, Bedford Heights, Berea, Brook Park, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Euclid, Garfield Heights, Lakewood, Maple Heights, Newburgh Heights, Oakwood, Olmsted Falls, Parma Richmond Heights, Rocky River, Shaker Heights, South Euclid and Warrensville Heights are the communities that will benefit.

The County Land Bank is playing a key role.

Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik says eight commercial buildings and about 30 abandoned homes will come down in his city.

Some are on East 185th Street, the main entrance way to Euclid Hospital, Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School and the Hospice of the Western Reserve,

Cervenik said the demolitions will help revitalize the neighborhood and increase property values by clearing the way for investment.

Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers said, “It’s a huge deal” for his city and called the program a “big step” for the whole region.

Money for this first round of awards was accomplished by some re-budgeting.

The county was planning to spend $30 million on upgraded data center for the Medical Examiner’s Office with $14 million of that funding became available for the demolition program because the county plans to save money by using the state’s data center , saving money for the next 25 years.

Budish pledges to find funds for the entire $50 million program. Applications for the second round of funding will be accepted starting May 1.

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Fun Fact

The Cuyahoga Land Bank property inventory recently transacted over five thousand properties! Here are the Cuyahoga Land Bank Production numbers that stand so far in 2015:

Production Type Through 2015
Total Property Acquisitions 5027
Total Disposed Properties 3681
Total Demolitions 3246
Total Facilitated Renovations 1046
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Did You Know

At the end of February, 2015, the Cuyahoga Land Bank executed a second licensing agreement for its Property Profile System (PPS) to the Mahoning County Land Bank. PPS is a property management software system that performs a variety of functions for daily Land Bank operations, analysis, program development and planning. In the Fall of 2014, the Cuyahoga Land Bank licensed PPS to the Hamilton County Land Bank. For more information on PPS, you can contact Michael Schramm, Director of Information Technology, at or 216-698-8777.

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Vacant Land becomes community asset in the Village of Glenwillow

Through the collaborative work between the Village of Glenwillow and the Cuyahoga Land Bank, and the persistence efforts of Mayor Mark Cegelka and the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s attorney, Doug Sawyer, a key piece of property was acquired by the Village for future use.Land Bank Staff
The ten acre parcel is located at the cul-de-sac end of Bond Street which is an industrial corridor on the west side of the Village.   Bond Street is currently home to over twenty businesses and was recently improved with curbs, gutters and landscaping. The vacant land parcel had been in foreclosure since early 2013 and the opportunity for productive development was uncertain.
The Village decided to acquire the parcel for a public trail head and proposed multi-purpose trail that runs along Tinkers Creek on the east side of the parcel.  Another potential use is for a future service department building.
Mayor Mark Cegelka stated that “even though both projects are still in the planning stages, the acquisition of this property gave us the incentive to move forward on these improvements for our community.”  The Mayor added that “he and the Village Council are grateful for the assistance and cooperation of the professional staff at the Cuyahoga Land Bank in seeing this project to fruition.”

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A gateway to nature for the Village of Glenwillow

Runners, bikers, dog walkers and hikers can now enjoy a seventeen acre nature preserve park in the Village of Glenwillow, thanks to the Village’s recent acquisition of a property that lies on the bank of Tinkers Creek.  The land will connect the Village of Glenwillow to the Bedford Reservation, part of the Cleveland Metroparks Emerald Necklace.Land Bank Staff
Residents of Glenwillow wanted to connect their community to the Bedford Reservation and protect the green space. This was made a reality when an abandoned house on the east side of Richmond Road was demolished by the Cuyahoga Land Bank, so that the property could be returned to its natural state. Glenwillow set out to make the vision a reality by working with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC), who acquired the property and obtained a Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant for the project.
The Clean Ohio Greenspace Conservation Award from Natural Resources Assistant Council required matching funds. Thats when Jeff Schiffman, Conservation Project Manager of the WRLC, reached out to the Cuyahoga Land Bank to ask if they would demolish the abandoned house as part of the demolition match.
“The Cuyahoga Land Bank’s assistance allowed the Village to transform this property from an eyesore into its doorway to connect the 2,290 acre Bedford Reservation to the Emerald Necklace,” Schiffman said.
The Village wanted to protect this beautiful gateway to nature for generations toLand Bank Staff come, and so they asked the WRLC for help.  The park will be owned and maintained by the Village of Glenwillow. The land is now permanently protected under a conservation easement held by WRLC that allows the property to only be used for passive recreation, such as bird-watching or hiking.
“It’s exciting when taking down a single house has such a tremendous impact,” said Cuyahoga Land Bank, Manager of Special Projects and Land Reuse, Lilah Zautner.  “Knowing that people will be able to enjoy the beauty of Tinkers Creek because of this project – is a fantastic feeling!”

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Village of Glenwillow | St. Stanislaus – 2015.3.2

3.2.15 NL


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Mapping out how Detroit is tackling a mountain of blight (mlive)

No one who has driven through Detroit is surprised by what confronts city residents: More than 84,600 properties are blighted by one estimate, a staggering number that means more than one in five parcels citywide is tainted by a dilapidated structure.

With decay running across almost every neighborhood, perhaps the most daunting task was deciding where to start. Thus this dilemma: Detroit could spend tens of millions of dollars across every neighborhood and make no visible dent in many places.

See which Detroit neighborhoods get blight relief first in this interactive map

So city leaders have made hard choices since Mike Duggan became mayor in January of last year, picking a handful of targeted areas in which to spend the first wave of $50 million in federal money. This includes, for instance, parts of the west side but not all of Brightmoor, an area that’s been rocked by foreclosure and abandonment. It also includes East English Village and Jefferson-Chalmers on the east side, but not all of the area in between, much of it a pockmarked landscape of urban prairie.

In the past eight months, more than 3,700 structures have been demolished or are in the process of getting knocked down, according to the city. Duggan spokesman John Roach said that before the mayor took office the city was demolishing 50 structures a week. Roach said the goal is 200 a week (about double the city’s current pace), which would take care of 10,000 structures a year. Even at that hoped-for rate, it could take up to 10 years to clear all properties currently marring the city.

Detroit is burning through $100 million in federal funding for demolitions, but it needs hundreds of millions more. The Detroit Blight Task Force, which oversaw the mapping of the entire city to get a handle on the blight problem, estimated the total bill could hit $850 million.

When he was Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr initially outlined a plan to take some of money Detroit would save through bankruptcy and spend $520 million on blight removal over the next decade. But Roach, the city spokesman, and city Chief Financial Officer John Hill are less specific.

If the city cannot find additional savings or new revenues, there is no additional city money slated for blight removal, Duggan warned told local leaders in February. He told the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference the city is looking for more federal money. The mayor is “hopeful they’ll be able to find additional funding by the summer,” Roach said.

Better neighborhoods get priority

The city has drawn hard lines surrounding which neighborhoods get help first. More densely populated areas that are just beginning to fray with abandoned homes will get the bulldozers first. Areas that are already largely abandoned will have to wait. That means dozens of demolitions and clean-ups can take place on one street, while a block away homes are left to wither, their windows broken out, foundations cracked and garbage strewn around.

“It became pretty simple: Where are you going to do the most good with the money you’re spending,” said Craig Fahle, director of public affairs for the Detroit Land Bank Authority. “Where is the money going to have the biggest impact on the most people?”

Working with the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, the land bank has flooded the chosen areas with money to knock down houses, taken owners of vacant homes to court and sold the abandoned home in the best condition at auction.

The city based those decisions on where they felt a dollar invested could bring the greatest return, trying to identify “tipping point” neighborhoods that could be saved.

A review of census data shows the areas getting immediate attention are indeed those with the most people. These priority neighborhoods also have the highest rates of owner-occupancy, with higher household income and lower vacancy rates.

While the administration of former Mayor Dave Bing stumbled in its initial call for a sweeping renovation of city neighborhoods (Bing met fierce resistance when he urged residents to move to the city’s “population centers,” warning that those in abandoned neighborhoods would receive fewer services if they stayed put), Duggan has been careful to avoid any rhetoric that suggests forced relocations.

Still, there are lines, and they divide.

Asked what the city’s message is to residents outside the targeted demolition neighborhoods, Fahle said, “We’re not in your neighborhood – yet,” and adding, “But we want to get there. It may take a while but we want to get there.”

‘Winners and Losers’

Jim Rokakis is well aware of the problem Detroit leaders face. As a one-time Cleveland city council member and later treasurer of Cuyahoga County, Rokakis saw what blight was doing to Cleveland and he became an instrumental leader in creating the Cuyahoga County Land Bank. He knows what triage means for a city.

“It means there’s winners and losers,” he said bluntly.

But like battlefield triage is designed to treat those most in need, Detroit’s efforts have their own logic. By pouring finite resources into finite areas of the city, Detroit can show visible, momentum-building results. Detroit’s scattershot approach of the past left the city looking pretty much the same.

“You can nibble away at the edges but you will always be nibbling at the edges,” Rokakis said, who supports Detroit’s efforts to target specific areas.

In 2013, the Detroit Blight Authority, a private nonprofit group, targeted 14 blocks in the northwest neighborhood of Brightmoor for blight removal and added 21 more last year, creating a template now on display across the city.

A number of blight removal advocates traveled to New Orleans and Baltimore to witness efforts in those cities. Though the scale of the problem there is dwarfed by Detroit’s, the lesson was the same from both.

“It became very clear,” said Chris Uhl, vice president of social innovation for the Skillman Foundation, who was on the blight removal task force. “You absolutely had to target.”

Attacking vacancies

In addition to the more than 3,700 demolitions or planned demolitions since last year, the Detroit Land Bank has taken action on another 2,852 vacant properties, citing the owners for vacancy and demanding they remedy the problem or lose the building, the city reports. Of those, 1,762 went to court, leading to 440 consent agreements and 362 default judgments. Hundreds of other owners have simply donated their property to the city.

The city has not lost any of its nuisance abatement cases in county court, Fahle said.

The goal is to use the court’s authority to force owners to turn a vacant structure into an occupied one. And for those well-kept properties the city already controls through donation or tax foreclosure, the city is turning to the auction block. Although just 79 have been sold, 182 have been closed upon and another 1,464 are in the auction pipeline, according to the city.

Combined, the auctions, demolitions and citations are part of the three-pronged effort in the targeted neighborhoods. “If you want to do this comprehensively, you had to do it all,” Uhl said. “You have to have a lot of different solutions.”

Out in the neighborhoods, those efforts may be difficult to see at first glance.

On Runyon on the east side, one block of 30 parcels in the Osborn targeted area had just 21 homes. Only seven appeared occupied. Several blocks east, outside the targeted area, more homes were occupied though some would benefit if others nearby were knocked down. Yet two blocks west, most homes were occupied, the lawns managed.

On one of those blocks of Barlow, James Pureifoi, 43, was changing a tire recently. He’s glad he’s moved from the Harper and Gratiot area to Barolow, where most of the homes still stand and are occupied. But he lives just outside the Osborn area that is being targeted for home demolitions and he chafes when he learns he’s on the wrong side of the line. He can see three boarded up homes from his porch and he said he deals with the crime that pervades the area.

“I don’t like that (one area is) being picked because everywhere needs help,” he said.
From ‘apathy to excitement’

Uhl, Fahle and others hope the targeted approach will invigorate residents. In the neighborhoods receiving help now, neighbors will be more prone to pick up a shovel or rake and tend to their own corner of the world. “It turns (people) from apathy to excitement,” Uhl said.

With time in short supply – the city got just 18 months to spend the first $50 million – the city is focused on leveraging that excitement. And, according to Fahle, the mayor is leading the charge, peppering housing officials with questions during weekly sessions about specific blocks and lots.

Research has shown that demolishing blighted homes in troubled neighborhoods can raise the property values for those still occupied. Research funded by Cleveland area nonprofits showed that demolitions add value, depending on the overall quality of the neighborhood and the proximity of the affected homes to the demolition.

That same study, though, also showed that some neighborhoods are too far gone to see values rise. Not that those residents don’t deserve attention, Rokakis said. It’ll make the neighborhoods safer and points to the value of tackling the issues earlier. “We should have staunched the bleeding earlier,” he said of Cleveland. “We’re in mop-up mode.”

Detroit’s leaders say they are anticipating a day in which the city’s strongest neighborhoods, scattered across Midtown, the northwest side, and east near the border with the Grosse Pointe communities are thriving again; when the appearance of a “for sale” sign indicates a future resident is coming, not a backhoe.

“We can envision a day in East English Village, when the only time a home is empty is when the owner has moved and it’s waiting for the new owner to move in,” Fahle said.

Until then, the demolitions will continue, court cases will be filed and the auction block will be full of Detroit properties, a couple neighborhoods at a time.

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Cuyahoga Land Bank

The mission of the Cuyahoga Land Bank is to strategically acquire properties, return them to productive use, reduce blight, increase property values, support community goals and improve the quality of life for county residents.

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