Fairchild calls for ‘fresh look’ at blight; Mayor Whaley asks where he’d find the money

Dayton Commissioner Darryl Fairchild called on the city to bring “more urgency” to the issue of blight removal, which led to a chiding by the mayor.

After a resident pressed the city to remove vacant homes in his neighborhood, Fairchild said Dayton does a great job of rising to challenges and the city should take a fresh look at the blight problem and try to come up with some new and creative ways to fight it.

“We have incredible skill sets in this city, and I think we have an incredible opportunity in this moment to go back and re-look at this issue,” he said.

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But Whaley said demolition is the solution to blight, and she wants know where Fairchild proposes to find the money and resources for enhancing this service.

“Commissioner Fairchild is quick to make points and show no ideas,” Whaley said. “He’s been on the commission now for over a year — I want to see what he has to offer instead of just saying, ‘I disagree.’”

At Wednesday’s commission meeting, Dayton resident Kimaru Wa-Tenza asked commissioners what he can do to get some abandoned homes in his neighborhood torn down.

Wa-Tenza said the houses have been empty for years and pose safety and health risks and discourage investment. He said the city has not been doing enough to address the issue.

“It’s time for the city to start investing in our neighborhoods as well as downtown,” he said. “How do we go about getting these houses raised?”

After his comments, Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said city has torn down about 2,120 abandoned homes since 2013 at a cost of about $28.5 million.

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The city maintains about 6,000 properties and lots to try to improve quality of life in neighborhoods, and the city demolishes blight strategically, with properties that pose safety risks as the top concern, Dickstein said.

The city also prioritizes demolition around important assets, like large employers and schools that try to make aesthetic improvements to their neighborhoods, she said.

The city also focuses on eliminating vacant and dilapidated structures along major corridors, Dickstein said.

“That is how people experience the city,” she said.

But Fairchild said he gets frustrated when citizens invite or urge the city to do better and city leaders respond by pointing to past work and accomplishments instead of figuring out what else could be done.

“I think that is insufficient, given the challenge that we face,” he said.

Citizens deserve a better response from city leaders and staff, who he asked to look more closely at the problem to try to find new ways to reduce the number of vacant structures, Fairchild said.

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Whaley said the city tears down as many vacant structures as it can, but there’s not enough money to solve the problem.

Whaley questioned where Fairchild proposes finding the funds for more demolition and related services.

She asked whether the money would be diverted away from the police department, the fire department, public works, recreation and youth services or other departments.

“This is really, frankly, a money question,” she said. “This is a dollar issue, and nothing more.”

Many years ago, the city initially projected it would cost about $25 million to take down all of the blighted homes in the city, Whaley said.

But after spending more than $28 million on demolition, there’s still probably $20 million or more of blight remaining, and state and federal funding for this work has dried up, Whaley said.

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Still, the mayor said, the city put aside $1 million for demolition this year from its general fund and considers it a top priority. She said her own home is surrounded by five vacant houses.

Fairchild said blight is an urgent concern for residents who live next to or near empty properties.

He said he hopes to develop some proposals for tackling blight and neighborhood development. He also wants to hear everyone’s ideas for making a difference.

Fairchild said he gets along with the mayor and they have great respect for each other, but sometimes they disagree and can be direct with one another.

“I think citizens are better served by us working together constructively to find solutions — not escalating our disagreements,” Fairchild said.

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