Portman bill deals with abandoned houses

PDT Sports Report

June 11, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Portsmouth City Health Commissioner Chris Smith says legislation introduced Monday by U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) would essentially save Portsmouth taxpayers money, if the funding included in the bill would be utilized locally.

Portman introduced the Neighborhood Safety Act, legislation that would allow municipalities and land banks to tap-into additional funds to demolish vacant structures, which pose a growing threat to the public safety and economic well-being of Ohio’s communities. Ohio has nearly 100,000 vacant properties awaiting demolition, posing a significant risk to public safety and drastically decreasing the value of surrounding properties. Municipalities and local land banks have worked collaboratively to demolish vacant properties, but with municipal budgets already stretched, Portman said there is little money available to tackle the problem.

“We’re very supportive of it,” Smith said. “The land bank has been an excellent program for the city.”

A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Representatives David Joyce (R-OH-14), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11).

“The housing market still hasn’t recovered from its collapse in 2008 and the thousands of vacant properties throughout Ohio are stalling a much needed rebound,” Portman said. “Ohio’s communities have made some progress in demolishing abandoned properties, and this bill will provide them with needed additional resources to build upon those efforts.”

Smith said the bill would likely save taxpayers money.

“We got about 15 properties sold last year. We have about 50 coming on line this year. One of our biggest problems is that people don’t want to buy these lots that have a house that needs to be torn down,” Smith said. “So, if we can get grant money and get them torn down, then we can sell them to the citizens a lot cheaper. If you think about it like this - an empty lot is going to cost you $2,000 - even if we sell you a lot with a house on it, we can sell it to you for $500, but you are still going to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 to get it torn down. This would be a very good program, and, by being federal grant money passed through, that wouldn’t have to be paid back. So it would essentially save the taxpayers money.”

Portman said vacant and blighted structures are a major public safety issue in large and small communities across the country.

“Tens of thousands of vacant homes dot the streets of our cities, and quickly become magnets for illicit activity including drug use, rape, gang activity and murder,” Portman said. “Vacant structures also severely impact the housing values of other homes on that street.”

Portman said for neighboring homes that are still occupied, that can mean that up to 75 percent of their house value is lost due to near-by homes becoming vacant and quickly sending neighborhoods downhill.

“Cities large and small are all struggling with the abandonment of housing that resulted from the Great Recession. Lima has sought every opportunity to attack this problem, but funding is essential to any strategy,” David Berger, Mayor of the City of Lima, said. “Senator Portman’s bill will provide resources for a critical need facing our neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for many citizens who inhabit those neighborhoods.”

The numbers show Ohio to be an area which is greatly in need of demolition of abandoned housing.

“There are 100,000 vacant, vandalized and never to be occupied again structures in Ohio,” Rich Cochran, President and Chief Executive Officer, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, said. “Our ability to remove these structures is critical if we hope to rebuild neighborhoods and cities in Ohio.”

The bill simply states that any amounts of assistance that have been allocated through the Hardest Hit Fund program may be used to demolish blighted structures. More than $7 billion of Hardest Hit Funds have been appropriated, but are not presently allowed to be used for demolition in states such as Ohio. States that experienced the sharpest decline in home prices during the economic downturn received these funds to help struggling homeowners refinance.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.