Tuesday, October 11, 2011

West End: More low income or more demolitions? Time for real Preservation

The West End face's another familiar challenge. More Low income crime ridden housing or more demolitions.

At stake is a a huge chunk of West End Real Estate, specifically 1800, 1803, 1804, 1807,1809, 1813, 1817, 1819, 1901 Baymiller all up in the court of housing appeals. If those addresses sound familiar its because they are all old  Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority properties that were shut down years ago because of the poor living conditions and high crime in them.  CMHA dumped these properties on the market with no protective covenants requiring restoration or Preservation, presumably to get out from under the legal problems with these properties which had gone from VBML to condemn status. Most of these properties have been 'mired' in low income housing since the 1970's

The properties were bought by "West End Renaissance Village" / CRA  (Community Revitalization Agency),which according to its website is proposing to build new "systems built" (Prefab) homes on the east side of Baymiller. According to the website:

"Community Revitalization Agency paid considerable attention to the design of the garages of the newly constructed homes.  CRA had the homes designed to provide garages entering in the front of the homes principally due to the lack of available alley entrances.  Also, community input suggested that alley entrances would present somewhat of an issue due to inner-city issues with respect to crime.  Consequently, each home will need a “curb cut” to provide adequate entry from the street".

Front facing garages would destroy the historic appearance of the West End. The historic homes will be "Rehabbed' according to the website. There are no architectural renderings of this proposal anywhere on their website

This proposed influx of 'affordable hosuing' may however come as a surprise to those along Dayton Street who have invested millions of dollars in restoring homes back to single family. Apparently no historic protections exist in that area of Baymiller.

In fact 'West End Renaissance Villages" partners are listed as: Brightstar Baptist Church, Ohio Finance Fund, Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, Whitepine Construction, All American Homes, Wichman & Gunther , the website proclaims that Renaissance Village will have  64 sites concentrated on York, Baymiller, Findley and Linn Streets  More info here:

No one seems to be able to ascertain if "West End Renaissance Village" and  the CRA , even has  the money to build this grand project. Sources tell me that there were plans to use "Hope VI" monies but given the current litigation over where previous monies were spent that seems doubtful.

In the meantime many of these properties are falling down, In fact some have orders going back 10 years and several were ordered vacated by the city . No one can explain why CMHA, funded with Federal tax dollars was 'allowed' to let these buildings fall into such disrepair in the first place not why these properties , which given their location near the Dayton Street Historic District, and have value, were essentially 'given away' by CMHA. It looks like the classic "slumlord shuffle" but with a governmentt agency and a non profit. All of this  at a time when the poor are leaving the west end for areas with more job opportunities and many of the social services churches are leaving, why there is a push to keep the West End  in stranglehold' of low income housing is a big question. Why was CMHA allowed to escape its maintence responsibilities on these properties in the first place and can CRA demonstrate it has the monies to beging immediate stabilization of these properties?

Its is also a question that property owners in the West End who have spent millions restoring their homes need to be asking now and preservationist city wide should be concerned about. What needs to happen is that these homes need historic protections and should be sold with protective covenants to people with the demonstrated funding to restore them. We must move beyond the 1960's and the idea that this area must remain a poor enclave.The West End need to be allowed to realize its full potential and be returned to the vibrant historic community it once was..

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Blight" Tours: A creative way to attract Preservation and Re-investment

A Great restoration (Photo courtesy EPNIA website)
 Generally speaking by the time most neighborhoods are holding a home tour, the "Urban Pionneers" have long moved on to other neighborhoods and the home prices have gone through the roof. One neighborhood , on its way back, is taking a different approach and "blight tours"' may soon replace the more traditional home tour.

The reasons are simple, attracting those willing to restore old houses is harder than ever before. While prices are generally down and there is a large influx of foreclosed properties , often once grand single families that have suffered the indignity of being turned into apartments, the credit markets have tightened and trying to find those willing to restore and finding resources to do the restoration have become extremely difficult.

One neighborhood in Illinois is trying a new approach of outreach to Preservation minded people and it could well become the latest tactic of emerging neighborhoods and historic preservationists who are trying to turn around a neighborhood by attracting reinvestment.

Known as "Blight Tours" or their more sanitized name "Urban Pioneer Tour"s, the Enos Park Neighborhood in Springfield Illinois is holding its "Urban Pioneer Home Tour' tommorrow (October 8th) from 1-4 PM and is offering the public an opportunity to see some of its "land banked homes', in progress homes, and see the preservation opportunities that exist in the Enos Park Neighborhood. the neighborhood group which has its own land bank and has been strategically buying property and vacant land and has amassed over 40 properties. The goal is to find those "Urban Pioneers" who want to restore and live in a great neighborhood. The group has partnered with lending institutions and other resources who will be on hand to provide information and resources. More info on the tour and Enos Park is available here:


I find this to be a great and solid approach to attracting preservation oriented people and is similar to the small private tours I have been giving of our Knox Hill neighborhood for some time and ties into our "Preservation Opportunity Tour" that Knox Hill Neighborhood Association is planning for Spring of 2012 when we will showcase two under restoration properties and several "opportunity' homes.

Clearly with changing times and challenges presented to neighborhoods new strategies are important.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Historic Preservation : A criminal offense. City Council are you listening?

"Basically, they are saying homeowners are not allowed to restore their houses because it takes too long... unless they can afford a team of contractors to do the work. So they are discouraging historic preservation for anyone but the wealthy. If I had left it covered in ugly, faded 40+ yr old aluminum siding covering all the architectural character, they'd be happy.  I'm being punished for doing historic preservation of my house."

That's a quote from a lady named Nina who is facing criminal; prosecution in Lakewood Ohio for RESTORING her house. You can read the entire story on her blog:

It must be something in the water in Ohio maybe?

Of course her problem is an everyday one for most of us restoring a house in Cincinnati. I know of one Preservationists in Cincinnati who is on house arrest and Of course we all know one highly regarded person in OTR was recently arrested and spent days in jail. Meantime a local slumlord purchased  a large number of properties at the County forfeiture sale earlier this year, placed them in his sons name and  is "patching together" a condemned house (with real structural problems) in my neighborhood with city approvals.

While other cities , in other parts of the country, encourage Historic preservation by sponsoring workshops and conferences on Preservation and "How to "  seminars and some cities are even offering 1/2 price or no cost permit fees to encourage people to buy and restore distressed foreclosures, our city plows along in the last century more intent on squeezing that last drop of blood they can out of you before you get fed up and make that one way trip across the river to Newport or Covington to restore a house, never to be seen again.

Unfortunately it happens all too often in Cincinnati. One can look across the river to Newport or Covington and see the "preservation energy" People restoring old houses , bringing back neighborhoods and improving the tax base. While we do nothing to encourage Preservation other cities move forward, I hope all those running for council or those who currently have seats on the council realize that unless the council enacts some common sense policies they will be presiding over the next Detroit, because it looks to me like those 30,000 people we lost in population all moved across the river and are restoring houses and buildings over there.

At a time when we have a great resources our historic houses, that could expand our population and thereby our tax base we , much like Lakewood Ohio are caught in downward spiral of bureaucracy.