About one in six structures in Dayton are vacant even though the city has spent millions of dollars knocking down eyesores and some areas show strong signs of blight reversal.
Urban decay continues to plague area neighborhoods, including a handful in which more than one-third of structures are empty or abandoned, according to the results of a citywide property survey obtained by this newspaper.
Vacant homes and buildings drag down property values, attract criminal activity and provide neighbors with a disincentive to invest in their properties.
But the survey data show that less than 10 percent of structures are vacant in nearly half the city’s neighborhoods, suggesting some stabilization in the housing and commercial real estate markets.
The city and its partners have removed more than 2,200 structures since 2009. The city has spent $18 million or more on demolition.
“We’re not out of the woods, but I think these numbers show things are improving,” said Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development.
Earlier this year, Dayton hired the Ohio-based Thriving Communities Institute to survey all parcels in the city to document their conditions and whether or not they are occupied.
Two-person teams spent months canvassing the city to assess, map and photograph every structure and empty lot. The information will be used to create a database to guide Dayton’s demolition strategy and how it invests community development funds.
The survey found the city is home to about 53,574 parcels containing structures. Of those, about 6,601 — or 12 percent of the total — have vacant homes, buildings, garages and other structures.
No one next door
Blight casts a long shadow over day-to-day life for some residents of the Santa Clara neighborhood.
Santa Clara was ground zero of Ohio’s foreclosure crisis. Five years ago, government data showed it was one of the 10 most abandoned areas in the country.
Katrena McCrary, 34, lives on Marathon Avenue, just up the block from a row of empty and dilapidated homes.
The homes have busted out windows, peeling paint and trash and overgrown vegetation in the side yards.
McCrary said it was not until her family moved in over the summer that she realized her street was packed with decay.
Next door is an abandoned home. Across the street is an empty duplex. She said about 10 empty houses line her block.
McCrary loves her home and its big backyard. She said her neighbors are friendly and look out for each other.
But McCrary does not let her four children play outside after dark.
McCrary’s daughter once caught a stranger peeking into her home through a side window. The family dog serves as an intruder alarm.
“This is the first street I’ve lived on where there are more abandoned houses than people living in them,” she said.
More than 35 percent of structures in the Santa Clara neighborhood are vacant. It had the highest proportion of vacant structures out of Dayton’s 66 neighborhoods.
Some other parts of the city are nearly as empty. More than one in three structures are vacant in the Southern Dayton View and Roosevelt neighborhoods.
There is no directly comparable data for previous years, because the U.S. Census only measures individual units and not structures.
Still, the 2010 Census found that nearly half of units were empty in the Santa Clara area. About 44 percent of units were uninhabited in Southern Dayton View and 40 percent were unoccupied in Roosevelt, the Census said.
Combined, Santa Clara, Dayton View and Roosevelt have 844 abandoned structures, which tend to attract drug users, prostitutes, metal thieves and fire bugs.
But despite the prevalence of run-down properties, the city’s problem with abandonment seems to be receding as decrepit homes and buildings are reduced to rubble.
In Santa Clara, the city has leveled dozens of structures since the late 2000s, including some of the most abominable eyesores. The city has prioritized removing fire-damaged structures and blight along major corridors as well as in “asset development areas” near schools, employers and institutions.
City officials estimated Dayton had about 8,000 to 9,000 empty structures in 2009.
If those numbers are accurate, Dayton’s supply of abandoned structures has been reduced by as much as 27 percent.
“I think in most neighborhoods, there has been a decrease in the number of vacancies,” Sorrell said.
Notably, in 31 neighborhoods, fewer than one in 10 structures are empty.
And in some areas, residents can count the number of empty structures on two hands.
For instance, less than 1 percent of structures are empty in the Forest Ridge / Quail Hollow neighborhood.
In the Eastmont, Gateway, Pheasant Hill, Shroyer Park and Patterson Park neighborhoods, less than 2 percent of structures are vacant.
The problem, however, remains daunting.
On average, it costs the city about $11,000 to demolish and remediate abandoned properties.
Based on that rough estimate, it would still cost the city tens of millions of dollars to dramatically decrease the number of vacant structures.
It could take 10 to 15 years to claim victory in the battle against blight, but there has been noticeable progress made to stabilize and revive local neighborhoods, local advocacy groups said.
“There has been a real concentrated effort and focus on making things better,” said Yvette Kelly-Fields, executive director of the Wesley Community Center, which serves people across the region but focuses foremost on the Westwood neighborhood.
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