Driving through many neighborhoods across the state of Ohio is more like driving through ghost towns. Vacant, abandoned properties litter the once-thriving communities, reminding passers-by of the crisis facing us all and the disparity of resource allocation in our country. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, more than 1.5 million properties received a foreclosure filing or were seized by banks in the first half of 2009. The purpose of this article is not to place blame for this problem, but rather to ask an even more crucial question: where do we go now? Just as important as that question is another: how do we get there?
The vacant and abandoned properties issue is twofold, including both homes and commercial buildings that have been left unoccupied. Both issues are intertwined and understanding their relationship is vital to the redevelopment of these neighborhoods. People need places to work, but they also need places to live with their families. It’s just as simple as that.
The road to redevelopment of these neighborhoods will be long and challenging, not something Ohio will finish overnight. Some of the first steps simply involve taking care of the security and financial risks associated with abandoned properties, such as crime, garbage waste and lack of tax base. Many cities have wrestled with the challenge of maintaining the upkeep of vacant properties, some cities shifting responsibility to mortgage holders entirely.
Ohio’s cities have launched programs to help aid businesses and homeowners. For example, the city of Cleveland started its Vacant Properties Initiative Fund with loans specifically for commercial property ownership. Some cities have requested outside assistance to improve their vacant properties situation, such as Youngstown, Ohio. The National Vacant Properties Campaign provided a report to Youngstown and Mahoning County regarding ways to improve property ownership. Their findings included involving community-based groups, better enforcement of regulations, developing a regional approach to property banking and cultivating community development. The goal of these initiatives is to encourage businesses to remain in communities, keeping jobs available and the economic infrastructure stable.
At Finance Fund, we have been working in these types of situations for more than twenty years. Although many of our programs help reclaim vacant properties, like the Ironton Close to Home III project, we recently developed a program specifically to help nonprofit, community-based organizations gain site control of vacant and abandoned properties. This program, LandLOC, works by providing a flexible line-of-credit to qualifying organizations enabling site control of vacant or abandoned properties. Activities eligible for financing include legal and acquisition costs as well as expenses associated with the safety, security and stabilization of the property. Interested nonprofits should contact me at 614.221.1114 for more information.
The next time you drive past a vacant property in your community, try to look past the eyesore and envision how it could be transformed into new, productive use. This is one important step in how Ohio’s communities will achieve redevelopment and thriving neighborhoods, by envisioning the future together.