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Community News

Demolition giving neighborhoods new life

7/25/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Area communities in midst of addressing vacant homes

Crews were on Grand Avenue in West Akron July 11 to take down one of several homes in that neighborhood as part of the Moving Ohio Forward demolition program.
Photo: Krista Galloway
This house across the street from the one being razed July 11 on Grand Avenue also is scheduled to come down.
Houses on Bloomfield Avenue, located one block north of Grand Avenue, also are scheduled to be demolished as part of the Moving Ohio Forward program, with some already gone.
GREATER AKRON — Summit County has 400 less vacant homes than it did a year ago.

And if work continues as planned over the next six months, local officials hope to see that number double to 900 or more as participation in the Moving Ohio Forward program proceeds.

“It’s actually working,” said Holly Miller, senior administrator in Summit County’s Department of Community and Economic Development. “What the program is meant to do, it’s doing.”

What the program is meant to do is rid communities of vacant, abandoned and blighted homes to improve neighborhoods and help raise property values.

“This is a good shot in the arm, and we needed this,” said city of Akron Development Manager Abraham Wescott.

He said the city has demolished 324 residential structures as of June 30, with hopes to get to another 130 by the end of the year.

Miller said the state program was made possible through a settlement from a suit against banks that used practices that spurred on the foreclosure crisis. Ohio received $75 million, and the state Attorney General’s Office allocated $3.7 million to Summit County. Of that amount, $500,000 was available outright, and the rest was to be matched by local communities that wanted to be part of the program.

Nearly every Summit County community got on board, from those that had just one property to larger cities like Akron that put $980,000 toward the program. In the West Side Leader’s coverage area, Bath Township was the only community that did not participate, Miller said.

Copley Township officials decided to take part, and Matt Springer, the township’s planning director, said seven homes have been addressed through the program already.

“These blighted homes, they have a terrible impact on surrounding property values and are a concern of our safety forces,” he said. “They are awful to keep in your community.”

Springer stressed the property owners all worked with the township and agreed to participate in the program.

“We actively worked with property owners and convinced them it’s a win-win situation,” Springer said.

By participating in the program, the owners were responsible for 50 percent of the cost of demolition. They could be assessed that cost on their property taxes. In addition, Springer said because the structure was removed and they were left with what’s considered an unimproved lot, the owners would see a reduction in their property tax.

In Copley, Springer said officials are well aware of which properties are abandoned.

“At first, we were looking at properties all over the township, but it just so happened to be the ones we took down were the most visible,” he said. “We wanted folks to realize we are actively working to get rid of these dilapidated structures.”

Three of the homes were within a half-mile of each other on Copley Road, Springer said, while the other four were on Kibler Road.

“[That street] has some nice single-family residences, then you had four structures that had been vacant for 15-plus years,” he said. “When you’ve got a $250,000 or $300,000 house sitting 200 yards from these structures, it’s not doing anybody any good.”

Akron’s Wescott said the city had already been in the midst of a demolition program to rid neighborhoods of unsightly properties, but the state program has allowed it do more. He said city officials are already seeing positive results.

“The houses go down, and a lot of times the neighbors get those properties so they have a bigger yard,” he said. “It helps us out because it puts it back on the tax rolls. The spin-off is you have people investing. You notice a few things are happening with these [remaining] houses, like new siding.”

Akron has demolished houses citywide, but Wescott said the city’s south side has seen the most activity.

The biggest challenge that Springer and Wescott found with the program is the amount of paperwork required. Miller said asbestos removal has been the challenge she hears about most often.

“It costs $3,000 to $5,000 to demo, but as much as $400 to $23,000 for abatement,” she said. “It’s really hard to look at a house and guess, so you have to go in to do an assessment survey. It could be just five floor tiles or all the drywall and all the siding, and it has to be abated by a licensed abatement contractor.”

Miller said the Moving Ohio Forward program only runs through the end of the year, so her department has begun checking up on participating communities monthly to make sure their share of grant money is being used. If it isn’t, the money can be moved to help another community, she said.

Miller added that one of the requirements of the program is that photos showing the lots and its neighboring properties before and after are sent to the state Attorney General’s Office. In one case, the “after” photo was taken a few months following the demolition, and staffers from the office questioned whether it was the right photo.

“The after photo did not look anything like the other photo,” she said. “The houses on either side were resided. So we had to provide that explanation.”

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