Last updated: August 23. 2013 9:39PM - 815 Views
By - flewis@civitasmedia.com - 740-353-3101

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Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

A plan offered by U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and endorsed by Portsmouth City Health Department Commissioner Chris Smith to use a portion of Ohio’s Hardest Hit funds to dear down vacant and abandoned houses has been accepted by the Treasury Department.

“I welcome today’s announcement that the Ohio Housing Finance Agency has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to use a portion of Ohio’s remaining Hardest Hit Funds to demolish abandoned homes in our communities,” Portman said. “I will also continue to push Congress to consider the Neighborhood Safety Act, which has bipartisan support from Mayors and Members of Congress from both parties and would ensure that these funds are used as efficiently as possible.”

Portman recently 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 our 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, there is little money available to tackle this problem. 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), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), and Tim Ryan (D-OH-13).

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

Portman said much of the reason for abandoned properties is a downturn in the economy.

“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.

“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.”

The legislation has, since being introduced, been endorsed by Smith, the Mayors of Lima, Mansfield, Middletown, Warren, and Youngstown, as well as the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.

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

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