Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Small targeted Preservation based development vs. Governmental "big ideas"

We all know that the City of Cincinnati is hooked on  Federal Funds, from CDBG to NSP if there is Federal money out there the city will find some way to 'justify' getting a piece of it. It is also true that the city is largely a failure at redevelopment of historic properties. One need only look at 292 McGregor or the townhomes on Lincoln the city restored to realize this. However its the lure of the Federal gravy train that keeps them coming up with grand ideas not based in 'real world' economics. The latest of these "boondoggles" is the MSD/City MSD Lick Run which proposed to wipe out S. Fairmount to build a glorified drainage ditch with Infill around it.

So what does work? or should I say what is working? Well Knox Hill is developing a good track record in a relatively short time. These strategies will work in any area and a block by block based not some "grand plan' the city would come up with and it basically involved not reaching for the bulldozer AND lobbying when the city wants to resort to it.

Some paint and pride go a long way to turnaround and is the first step to setting a standard
In 2008 when we bought in Fairmount in what many might argue, one of the worst parts of town. A crime ridden trash strewn neighborhood. We bought our house, a foreclosure, on a block of vacant homes for 4000.00 the typical value for anything vacant or occupied. Less that 10 years ago it had been a viable working class neighborhood, where the average home sold for around 50k. The neighborhood suffered from 8 years of two assaults. One from speculator/investors making Section 8 rentals who simply walked away when the real estate bubble burst and two, the City of Cincinnati's policies and vacant building task force had targeted the area resulting in the area being essentailly redlined. So with a deck of cards like that how do you turn things around?

Step one is "rebranding".": In doing research on the neighborhood we of course learned that the neighborhood had one been home to some of the most wealthy who built the homes as 'weekend or summer homes as they vistied the Schuezenbuckle. The area was refferred to historically as Knox's Hill. Rebranding became a no brainer and as a result Knox Hill was Born or should we say reborn. By distancing ourselves from the Fairmount "Brand" we also distanced ourselves from their failed brand and policies/views which had held the  neighborhood back Setting up a neighborhood website, facebook page and sending out regular press releases to the media and other neighborhood groups are key to establish your "brand'.

Step two is determining Assets and Liabilities: In our case neighborhood assets included, Proximity to downtown, Hillside views, no through traffic, quality affordable architecture, historic background. Liabilities were low owner occupancy rates, Vacant housing and bad city policies and perception the neighborhood was not worth saving.

Step three is establishing Goals and Strategy: We decided to identify existing owner occupants who were vested in the neighborhood. We also identifies some 'first steps' to build credibility. Those included media, and agressive public relations campaign to promote the Knox Hill Brand. We publically took on problems like the VBML and when a  Motorcycle gang, planed on moving into the area in a condemned building we took them on publically and (with cooperation from cthe city) were able to run them out of the neighborhood. We gave neighbors security cameras for their front porches. We cut the vacant lots the city left behind and were not maintaining, We stood in front of known drug dealers with cameras and every car coming and going had its picture taken. The drug dealers left. Crime has declined. We then went after absentee property owners, threatening receivership but giving them an olive branch we had people looking to buy. Most took that offer. Look at the target area block map to see the difference.

This house did not need a bulldozer, just an ownership change. CPA and Knox Hill fought to save this house. Now under restoration  rather than in a landfill. Next spring KHNA will help the new owner with a landscape plan and flowers

 We decided the demolitions had to stop and we filed a complaint with HUD over the failure of the city to conduct section 106 reviews.. We fought to see that properties on the list came off because they were viable and challenged inspection reports.

The neighborhood was a sea of RED in 2008 thanks to Foreclosures and city inspections.

The Red is disappearing as homes turn to owner occupied or are in preservation hands

If you look at the map the change has been significant. Still a long way to go but we have achieved more in a neighborhood the city largely wrote off than the city has with any of its projects and it was all done with NO federal monies.

The focus in our target area has had a ripple effect as blocks nearby are improving. New restorations are coming on line and the vacancy issue is slowly being reversed. Yes it will take time, But I would argue that small targeted approach achieve significant results rather than the big project approach of Cincinnati city Government. Now if the council would ask us how to turn around a neighborhood we can show them and if they will work with the neighborhood instead of against us we can do far more.

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