Crews are to begin tearing down targeted homes in late August—but only have just over 16 months to complete an aggressive demolition schedule in six sections of the city. The Broadway Corridor Coalition recommended the homes that will be demolished in the Old South End.
“In terms of a sense of scope, the city of Toledo demolished in one year 268 properties, which was great—it was a record,” said Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, who serves as a land bank board member. “What we are going to do is three times that amount.”
The county treasurer made his comments at a press conference last week in front of 551 and 559 Colburn, two of the Old South End properties to be demolished. Lourdes lives next-door to the weed-infested, boarded-up homes in a well-maintained, purple-sided house that even has a fruit-bearing peach tree in the front yard.
“If we are able to eliminate the blight from abandoned structures like this, it benefits Lourdes, the homeowner and people like her, who care and work hard and put money into their property—but unfortunately, have seen their values go down,” Kapsukiewicz said. “This isn’t about the vacant, blighted structures as it is about the beautiful structures next to it.”
The funds are a combination of a mortgage court case settlement from the Ohio Attorney General’s office and delinquent tax penalties paid by Lucas County property owners, a portion of which funds land bank operations under a recent change in state law.
“These are vacant, long-term chronic abandoned homes that do nothing other than drag down property values in our neighborhoods,” said Kapsukiewicz, emphasizing that no one would be displaced by the demolition effort. “Hopefully, folks like Lourdes and her neighbors can start to get equity back in their homes.”
But demolishing delinquent properties is only half the battle. Putting the properties in the proper hands to return them to the tax rolls is the other 50 percent of the equation.
All of the homes to be torn down were forfeited in tax foreclosure cases. Almost all have fallen into disrepair. The hope is to take those empty lots and let neighborhood groups rebuild homes on the sites—or sell them at a reduced cost to homeowners who want to create green space, a garden, or a larger yard.
“Our mission is to preserve home values and strengthen neighborhoods, like in this instance where we work with a neighbor to restore a vacant or abandoned structure to productive use by allowing her to expand her garden and beautify her side yard,” said Cindy Geronimo, a Latina appointed as land bank director in June.
Some homeowners have been left “upside down” or “under water” in their mortgages because of the foreclosure crisis. That simply means their loan is for a larger amount than the home is now worth.
“What has made this economic downturn so terrible in our country is that this one, for the first time, took value out of the home—and the home is what the middle-class has used for two generations to get equity out of their home to send their kids to college, to open a small business, whatever the case may be,” said the county treasurer.
“The beauty of this is it’s not a bunch of bureaucrats from on high telling neighbors what should happen,” emphasized Kapsukiewicz. “It’s the neighborhoods from the ground up telling the land bank what they would like to see happen in their neighborhood. I think that’s part of the reason why this has been so successful.”
“We’ve had some churches and neighborhood groups approach us and inquire about looking for space for picnic areas, soccer fields, things like that,” said Ms. Geronimo.
But there’s good reason the land bank is starting in the Old South End, which has nothing to do with the fact it is where Ms. Geronimo, ironically, grew up and still lives.
“There’s a lot of energy going into the Old South End with the Broadway Corridor Coalition,” said Josh Murnen, general counsel for the land bank. “The city’s department of neighborhoods is looking at it as a possible reinvestment area. It’s a corridor that sort of leads right up to the Warehouse District of downtown which lately has seen a lot of reinvestment. It made sense to start here.”
“We’re going to build two new, affordable houses in the 300-block of Chapin,” said Bill Farnsell, director of Neighborhood Housing Services. “These will be affordable, for-sale houses. Why is this important? Because we can’t build unless the land is clear.”
The community development corporation also plans to build 40 single-family homes near the Old West End starting in January. Toledo has not seen major residential construction in a number of years because of the foreclosure crisis. The neighborhood being targeted for those new homes is located near Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, which also has a large Latino population.