Local communities receive $5 million to fight blight

The Montgomery County Land Bank has been awarded more than $5 million to help it acquire and demolish hundreds of blighted and abandoned homes in Dayton, Trotwood, Jefferson Twp. and Harrison Twp.

Announced Friday by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, the grant will help prevent dilapidated homes from dragging down property values and causing more foreclosures in otherwise healthy or promising neighborhoods.

Though the Land Bank requested three times the amount of funding it was awarded, officials said the grant money is critical and will help keep housing blight from degrading areas that are livable, developable and vital to the community.

“This is an exciting day,” said Carolyn Rice, Montgomery County treasurer and chair of the Land Bank’s Board of Directors. “The only thing that would have been better is if we got all $15 million.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved allowing the Ohio Housing Finance Agency to use as much as $60 million in the state’s remaining Hardest Hit Fund to help stabilize property values and prevent foreclosures in communities statewide.

Funding through the Neighborhood Initiative Program seeks to help “tipping point” neighborhoods, which are areas that are filled with occupied homes but where vacant and blighted housing threatens property values and neighborhood stability.

“They didn’t want the money to go to the worst of the worst neighborhoods, but instead to those areas where if you strategically demolish certain properties you can help save the rest of the properties in that neighborhood or street,” Rice said.

In January, the Montgomery County Land Bank partnered with Dayton, Trotwood, Jefferson Twp. and Harrison Twp. to submit an application seeking $15 million in funding through the program, which was the most applicants could request.

In the application, the Land Bank said it has identified about 674 properties in the county that it would like to acquire and demolish. Roughly two-thirds of the properties are located in Dayton. The Land Bank said it would acquire most properties through the tax foreclosure process.

On Friday, the housing finance agency announced that 11 counties with land banks have been awarded just less than $50 million. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank received the largest award of $10.1 million; the Lucas County Land Bank will receive $6 million; and the Central Ohio Land Bank will receive $5.8 million.

The Montgomery County Land Bank was awarded $5,055,000.

Land Bank officials said they did not expect to receive the full amount requested, considering land banks statewide applied for more than twice the amount of available funds.

“The Ohio Housing Finance Agency had said a land bank could be awarded up to $15 million, but that didn’t seem realistic given that they are doling out $50 million,” said Paul Robinson, treasurer with the Land Bank board.

But the $5 million is crucial to help protect “neighborhood assets” through blight removal, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who also serves on the Land Bank board.

“This was a big priority for me, to make sure we paid attention to setting the Land Bank up and working in our neighborhoods,” Whaley said. “For us, it’s a way to make our neighborhoods more safe and protect our assets.”

The city of Dayton demolished a record 648 structures in 2013 at a cost of roughly $6 million in state, federal and city funds. But Dayton has about 6,500 vacant properties, most of which are residential, officials said. The city has 60 percent of the county’s vacant homes.

The Ohio Housing Finance Agency will reimburse the Land Bank up to $25,000 per property for acquisition, demolition and other costs.

The average cost of demolition is usually about $15,000, meaning the Land Bank could potentially demolish more than 330 units, said Dave Gulden, neighborhood initiative manager with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

But the Land Bank could end up demolishing far more properties, depending on the costs.

A single-family home with an attached garage in Dayton typically costs about $11,000 to demolish, housing officials said. Some blighted properties, however, may cost nearly $25,000 to remove because of environmental problems, such as asbestos or lead.

The Land Bank will now have to work with its partner communities to determine which properties to target, officials said. But there is no shortage of choices.

“We are really pleased that our application was successful and that OHFA chose to award us $5 million,” Robinson said. “We know how we’ll spend the money.”

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