Is Dayton's home rehab program really working?

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Dayton resident Larry Hollar thinks the city needs to change the way they handle vacant properties.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Larry Hollar stood outside a neighbor's property and looked in disbelief at the building that has been empty for the better part of ten years. He has called the city of Dayton many, many times to report high weeds in the yard, trash dumped behind the building and homeless people who broke in and set up camp.

"Oh boy, I called 'em, I faxed 'em. I've done everything I can," Hollar said.

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Hollar was shocked to learn the property, a four unit brick apartment building with broken windows and plywood over the doors, was once owned by the city of Dayton. It was part of the city program known as "LotLinks." The program was established originally to allow home owners to buy empty lots adjoining their property. Later the city expanded the program to include distressed houses.

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Empty houses are an eyesore in a lot of neighborhoods.

Empty houses are an eyesore in a lot of neighborhoods.

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Empty houses are an eyesore in a lot of neighborhoods.

Under the program, people interested in buying a distressed property can apply to the city. If the property is free of liens and other legal entanglements, the city can briefly take ownership and wipe out any back property taxes. Eventually the sale to the new owners is supposed to place the property on a path to renovation.

Brian Inderrieden, Dayton's Acting Director of Planning and Community Development, said the program has been successful. Thousands of properties have gone through the hands of the city to new owners. Exactly how much good it has done is not known. The city has not tracked the condition of the homes they sell months or even years after the sale.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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City employee Brian Inderriden talks about Lotlinks program.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

"We really haven't done that audit and dug into the data and done the analysis," Inderrieden said.

Real estate expert Denise Swick said at a minimum the city should look to see if the people who buy those properties are now paying their taxes.

"If they're not paying their property taxes, they're not mowing the grass, they're not fixing up the property, they're not 'in it to win it' so to speak," Swick said.

Using Ohio's public records law, the I-Team obtained the city list of properties that have been sold through the LotLinks program. A sampling of properties turned up some success stories, including a new home built on a former vacant lot along East Third Street in Dayton, as well as a former vacant lot that now has been purchased by a neighbor and is being maintained. At the same time, though, there are examples of houses that have been purchased by people who have not done enough repair work, if any, to satisfy the neighbors.

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Homeowner Elmer Bray told the I-Team that it is a frustrating experience to see the properties sit. He said even if the new owner is working on the property, it can take years before repairs are made.

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Empty houses are an eyesore in a lot of neighborhoods.

Empty houses are an eyesore in a lot of neighborhoods.

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Empty houses are an eyesore in a lot of neighborhoods.

"I tell them these properties need to be fixed up or torn down," Bray said.

A survey of 25 properties chosen at random that were sold through the city program showed about half of them owed at least $1,000 in back property taxes. One of them owes the county more than $20,000.

The property on Larry Hollar's street is back on the market. Some repair work has been done there but it appears the work has been halted, with multiple windows still broken. He is hoping someone with the time and money to finish the job will buy it and finally bring in some good tenants. Until then, Hollar said the property continues to bring down home values in the neighborhood.