South Euclid rehabs houses, offers tax breaks, tamps down on delinquencies: What programs could help you? (Cleveland.com)

In South Euclid, vacant properties signal opportunity. In an effort to stop foreclosed houses from deteriorating in the hands of negligent owners, the city uses grant money to refurbish neighborhoods and registry laws to keep rental properties in check.

The city’s community development corporation, One South Euclid, sells vacant homes and lots to buyers who agree to replenish them. The city earns grants to renovate homes and public spaces, and partners with outside neighborhood revitalization organizations.

South Euclid launched its housing programs in 2009 with the help $1.3 million in grants the city has been using to freshen up the neighborhoods where One South Euclid is trying to sell houses.

“South Euclid has been a leader in implementing programs, policies and practices to revitalize our neighborhoods,” Community Services Director Keith Benjamin said. “We used the [Neighborhood Stabilization Program] dollars in a unique way to manage the effects of the foreclosure crisis in a way that embraces sustainable green techniques.”

The city has built seven community gardens with the grants, revamped the streetscape on Mayfield Road, and renovated and sold five homes, equipped with environmentally friendly amenities including rain barrels, pervious pavement and rain gardens.

The result? The city points to countless awards and recognition, as well as a $1 million increase in residential construction from 2010-13.

In October, real estate firm Keller Williams listed South Euclid as one of the top 10 communities in Greater Cleveland. Building One Ohio named Mayor Georgine Welo its Visionary Leader of the Year in December, and the Center for Community Progress asked the city to present at its Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Detroit in May.

“Since 2010 Mayor Georgine Welo has been seeking to transform the city into a ‘College Town for All Ages,’ a nod to South Euclid’s claim to fame, Notre Dame College,” Keller Williams wrote. “Over the last 12 months the average price of homes sold has increased to $71,000, up nearly six percent from a year ago, while selling 20 percent faster.”

So what programs does South Euclid offer? How do they combat blight, and who is eligible to participate?

Green Neighborhoods Initiative: This city has built community gardens,rehabbed five properties, adopted laws to promote environmental responsibility and refurbished streetscape under this program.

Local legislation: The city has an ordinance that requires rental-unit owners register their properties and enforces steep fines for building code violators.

In December, City Council added a provision that prohibits owners of properties with delinquent taxes from obtaining occupancy permits.

“This takes care of an issue we have been seeing and what other cities have been seeing around the region,” Benjamin said. “There are a lot of people who rent homes and pay every month, and in the mean time the landlord is not playing their taxes and the house goes into foreclosure and the renter has no idea.”

Build & Thrive: In all of One South Euclid’s “Thrive” programs, the non-profit sells vacant properties transferred from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to buyers who promise to build anew, rebuild or expand in exchange for a five-year 75-percent tax abatement. One South Euclid sold at least seven homes under these programs and 14 more are for sale, Benjamin said.

In Build & Thrive, the city sells vacant land to owners committed to building new houses.

Grow & Thrive: Homeowners living next door to vacant lots are eligible to buy and consolidate with the empty properties.

Rebuild & Thrive: Existing homes are sold to “carefully vetted developers” who agree to rehab and resell the homes, or to owner-occupant buyers.

Purple Heart Homes: This program wasn’t founded by South Euclid, but the organization helped rehab a home in the city and transfer it to a permanent owner and veteran.

In Ohio’s first Purple Heart Homes project, the organization bought a vacant house from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank for $1 and donated about $50,000 toward renovations.

U.S. Army veteran Demond Taylor and his wife moved in in March, and are responsible for paying half the home’s market value. The second Purple Heart Homes project is now underway in Ward 3.

Heritage Homes: Through two separate Heritage Home programs, the Cleveland Restoration Society and First Federal Bank in Lakewood help buyers of vacant homes find financing for renovations.

The programs help owners of homes at least 50 years old prioritize renovations and secure financing; and grants low-interest loans for buying and renovating vacant properties.

Land Trust Program: An initiative of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, low- and moderate-income families can lease homes directly from the organization. NHS also picks up the cost of renovations.

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