A plan for working with what we have: Housing in Dayton

It was nice to see the same day the Dayton Daily News covers the candidates on housing, they also did an article on banks walking away from homes that they foreclosed on. I’m the only one who addresses this issue in my answers:

Esrati: Neighborhood associations key

Esrati calls Dayton’s neighborhoods “the building blocks of the city.” He would push for neighborhoods to have an association with a president that meets routinely with the city manager to discuss issues or share ideas that are working.

While campaigning, Esrati has seen blocks with one viable house and others that are thriving, blighted by one vacant structure.

He believes the city has to figure out how to move individual households from otherwise decimated blocks, into a vacant house in an otherwise thriving neighborhood. He suggests property swaps with banks to make it happen.

“We have to figure out where to invest and where to tear down,” Esrati said. “Let neighborhood associations decide which (structures) have to go and which ones don’t.”

Esrati said he would urge the city to develop legislation holding banks accountable for upkeep of foreclosed properties.

He said neighborhood associations should play a role in building data collection, so it becomes quickly known whether a structure is vacant, if the grass needs mowed, or if there are housing violations.

When a bank takes over a property, Esrati suggests the neighborhood association inventory the condition of the building — windows, plumbing, roof, etc. If the gutters need repaired, or plumbing replaced, banks should be held accountable for repairs.

“The banks are just letting houses rot. The (gas and electric) goes out and the water gets turned off. That’s when entropy sets in,” he said.

via Dayton candidates discuss housing crisis plans.

As a banker, you won’t hear Commissioner Williams asking to hold banks accountable for maintaining foreclosed properties. Commissioner Whaley is still talking about both land banking and empty lots, while Rhine McLin is talking about donating homes needing work to college students.

As a college student who bought a home as a sophomore in college (albeit after time in the US Army) I can tell you that not all college students are cut out for rehabbing an old home. I wouldn’t have been able to do mine if not for some amazing help from South Park neighbors like master carpenter Dan Campbell.

Considering neither Rhine or Nan have any experience rehabbing homes (I’ve done 5), I’m not sure they know what they are suggesting. If we provided community tool cribs, training courses and professional help, a student community could be an option- but, I think the way to do it is more the Americorps model- where students would live together, get training and then work on homes together as a team. This may require some modifications to single room occupancy rules- and maybe new provisions for co-housing.

Unfortunately, “the Team” of incumbents hasn’t been discussing any of these options- with a dual focus on tearing down housing as fast as money can come from the feds (and they can funnel into their demolition contractors friends companies) or on building new housing (which has to be heavily subsidized).

If we spend more of our time strengthening neighborhoods, and allowing them to monitor and hold property owners accountable, we’d be much more efficient, and maintain a larger tax base.

According to the early census changes, 2 person households with no children are the largest growing segment of the population- we should be able to easily attract people looking to live affordably in Dayton. What we need is inspired leadership from a pro-active City Manager who understands that 2 bedroom, 1 bath houses for $14,500 like mine- beat a small apartment in NYC or LA that rents for more than that in half a year. Bringing bike sharing to Dayton, working on capitalizing on our amazing parks and rec programs through Five Rivers Metro Parks, our abundant water supply and central location, will give Dayton a real chance to work with what we have.

Your thoughts?

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18 Responses

  1. Drexel Dave Sparks October 18, 2009 / 11:25 am
    Let’s face it, most people today don’t have the tenacity or time that it takes to fix an old beauty up.
    I have.
    It’s a lifestyle, not a project.
  2. Jeff October 18, 2009 / 12:00 pm
    Put a lot of money and work ino a house in Dayton  and you’d never get your money back (unless, maybe, it was in a historic district).  Take a lot at the table showing the collapse in average sales price.

  3. Jeff October 18, 2009 / 12:05 pm
    This set of articles was some of the best reporting from the Dayton Daily News.  It was an excellent bit of work clarifying what is behind the housing statistics, and shows how what superficially seems positive (decline in foreclosures) really isn’t.   The paper did a very good job of reporting on the political response by the candidates, and what is being proposed in Columbus.  The paper also put a human face on the problem by using the case studies of certain properties (the ones on Wayne and elsewhere).   Good work by the DDN.
  4. David Esrati October 18, 2009 / 12:29 pm

    @jeff- agreed, best reporting so far on the foreclosures and housing problems. That’s why it’s so important to keep people in their homes, instead of letting the foreclosure process kick in. We need loan mods more than empty homes, for everyone’s best interests.

    The drop in housing values during the McLin years should be the biggest indicator that “the team” has been asleep at the wheel.

    Look to the neighborhoods to fight to maintain their property values before expecting City Hall to do it for you. That’s one of the key reasons South Park is still here (historic district zoning is only part of it- and, it hasn’t really been enforced for the last 6 or 7 years).

  5. Teri Lussier October 19, 2009 / 10:53 am
    >If we spend more of our time strengthening neighborhoods, and allowing them to monitor and hold property owners accountable, we’d be much more efficient, and maintain a larger tax base.
    Strengthening neighborhoods is so key to strengthening the region. That will only happen if you empower neighborhoods to develop their own solutions to their own unique problems. Many of the options, ideas, and solutions you offer do just that, because you live in that world, understand that world. Until neighborhoods can create a future for themselves, I don’t see how Dayton’s residential and residential real estate problems will go away.
  6. David Lauri October 19, 2009 / 11:12 am
    That will only happen if you empower neighborhoods to develop their own solutions to their own unique problems.

    You know, instead of moving towards regionalism, the City of Dayton could instead allow various neighborhoods to secede and either form their own smaller cities or townships.  Some areas would probably do fine on their own as smaller cities.  Other areas would struggle on their own but could be townships instead of cities and receive services from the county, services that all county property taxpayers would have to subsidize.
  7. truddick October 19, 2009 / 3:04 pm
    I don’t see neighborhoods and regionalism as being mutually exclusive.  We could have one county-wide government and school district and still have neighborhood associations and neighborhood schools.

    In fact, two things ought to be promoted to strengthen neighborhoods.

    First, neighborhood policing with a zero-tolerance approach.  No neighborhood is strong when crime is out of control, and having regular cops on the beat who know the locals–and who issue citations for broken windows and sofas on the porches–is a proven way to reduce crime.

    Second, neighborhood elementary schools.  Students at the K-6 level mostly do not need innovative and diverse curricula–they need grammar, spelling, arithmetic, phys ed, geography, and in later grades music, science and a little history.  Beginning in middle school, and more so in high school, curricula can become more specialized.  We should have our elementary kids walking to their neighborhood schools which are all presenting the same curricula (exceptions for special needs and for geniuses), and we should be busing our high schoolers to magnet campuses like Stivers and DECA.

    Do those things, and the housing stock will take care of itself in the long run.  In the short run, I think David has it about right.

  8. Gina Kay Landis October 19, 2009 / 4:06 pm
    Interesting – and the conundrum is what to do with houses where ownership is still shown as the bank? If banks are walking away, and the city becomes the owner by default, then “the city” has to make a plan to deal with this problem. In fact, this is not just a local problem – it’s happening nation wide.

    Rather than tearing down homes, why not have the city and county work together to identify homes that are being abandoned by the banks. The county has the auditor’s office (where you can find changes in ownership). If, within ANY city limits (or township limits) the property isn’t being actively marketed for sale by an REO specialist or the bank during a specified amount of time, then the government entity should be able to take over the property and offer it for sale at below-market rate. Or, a nearby neighbor could purchase the home that is in a default situation (the city of Dayton has a method for doing this for abandoned lots or houses). It isn’t all going to be up to the government entity though – it has to be up to neighbors who figure out who to contact for properties that sit vacant with no intention of the owner to market them.

    By the way, police don’t currently issue citations for city-beautiful issues. That’s up to the housing inspection department with not enough staff to tour neighborhoods and write out citations.

    In some neighborhoods where properties are selling for $18K or as low as 5K and where repairs are up to $30K to get the home up to living standards, many college students couldn’t quite swing that without their parents chipping in for an FHA 203k rehab loan. That said, in areas where housing is routinely stripped of anything that can be sold, who will buy those houses?

    It’s a sticky problem. There must be a solution – and the solution rests with us, with neighbors, with people interested in seeing all areas of the city thrive.

  9. David Esrati October 19, 2009 / 4:29 pm

    @Gina- by the time the city or the county identifies the “problem home” the thieves have already done their work. We need to stop relying on government to take care of this- and, we can even let the neighborhoods write the code violations. There is no need to have to wait for a government employee to do it. Maybe make them non-binding- warnings, but if too many citations aren’t taken care of- fines.

    The whole college student thing is an irrational pipe dream. We’d do better to look to veterans first.

    And once we identify neighborhoods- maybe we tag some as more kid friendly than others- trying to build special kid services/attractions to go with the neighborhood schools.

    At one time, I had proposed subsidized 24 hour day care for city residents who work in the city as an economic development tool- maybe we need to look into this again.

  10. Teri Lussier October 19, 2009 / 10:38 pm
    >You know, instead of moving towards regionalism, the City of Dayton could instead allow various neighborhoods to secede and either form their own smaller cities or townships.
    I was discussing with a resident of Five Oaks, some ideas, options, thoughts about vacant lots and how to make those lots more productive to individuals. How could we get those lots to become vital, income-producing for a small business owner? And we got around to clearing this and that with the City. My friend said, “Why go through the City? Who is going to stop us? The City is overwhelmed with property issues.” I think that applies to a lot of things. Who is going to stop you? And frankly I believe that attitude of individualism, independence, is what is going to push Dayton into the future. If Mayor McLin sees a boutique city, she’s not coughed up the plan for that. Okayfine. We can do that ourselves.
    >And once we identify neighborhoods- maybe we tag some as more kid friendly than others- trying to build special kid services/attractions to go with the neighborhood schools.
    Steering. Red-lining. For Gina and I anyway, as Realtors, we personally can’t identify neighborhoods in demographic terms, and I’m not really sure the City want’s to do that. Neighborhoods can actively recruit new neighbors, South Park does that, Haight-Ashbury did that, air force families send out feelers for neighborhoods prior to moving, so it is done, can be done, but not by those in real estate.
    What we can do, love to do, are more than willing to do, is give out links to neighborhood info which are third party resources, so put your best foot forward online. David’s idea about neighborhood information online is exactly the information that buyers are looking for.
  11. Hall October 19, 2009 / 10:53 pm
    Regarding “problem homes”, the one right next door to me has been empty for 1-1/2 years now. The previous owners got behind, foreclosure started, but it looks like this one is a case of “bank abandonment” that was in the Sunday paper…. Anyway, I usually mow the front yard and pick up a bit but sometimes get tired of it and let it go. The I get pissed ’cause the weeds end up growing into my yard and a few times, I’ve called the housing dept to file a complaint and they begrudgingly take it…. Then I ask “What will happen ? No one lives there.” I’m alluding to the fact that they leave a notice at the house. I try and make the point that no one will get this and nothing will get done. The woman rudely responds, “That’s not for you to worry about. We’ll let the inspector deal with that.”
  12. Trina Bledsoe October 20, 2009 / 10:15 am
    Hi David…This is a national problem. The banks do not want to foreclose on homes because it shows a negative on the balance sheet. I have seen this happen many times being a Realtor. A home will be vacant, the owners evicted, but the bank will not actually take ownership. This leaves the owners homeless, but responsible for the upkeep of the home, without being legally permited to occupy it by court order. The banks across the country DO NOT want to take ownership and show a loss. The homes sit empty, no one paying taxes or utilities, and all along a family was forced out. I wish the banks would allow a owner to live in the home, maintain the taxes and utilities until the bank can take the home back. The banks only care about showing a profit even if it means the home will be worth zero at the end of the day…and the neighborhood will suffer greatly. If the home has a mortgage on it for $100 k, the bank shows a 100K asset, as soon as the bank forecloses and sells the prperty for 10K, the bank shows a loss of 90K on the balance sheet, plus the loss of taxes, maintanance, legal fees, ect. The banks are showing false earnings because they have MILLIONS of these homes across the country that aren’t being completely foreclosed on. If you have any ideas on how to stop this, I am all for it. I feel it starts with the banks. It is impossible to sell a home that is next door to a vacant property that no one really owns…

  13. David Esrati October 20, 2009 / 10:20 am


    We have to catch these early- that’s why the neighborhood based network to identify and target homes for saving or demolition is the first step. If we can offer a strategy to banks- that will help keep their investments protected, I think they’ll be more responsive.

    We have to explain to them the benefits of working with the neighborhood- to keep the values up. We’ll lobby this plan up to the Federal level as well. We’ll also remind the biggest banks who bailed them out- and the responsibility back to the tax payers.

    It has to be systematic- from the moment the house becomes empty.

  14. Bruce Kettelle October 20, 2009 / 12:10 pm
    Homeowners tend to get frightened by the wording on foreclosure documents and move out of their homes prematurely.  One step that could be effective is to require additional verbage on the foreclusre notice to clearly inform the owner that they may continue to occupy until there is an actual sherrif/bank sale of the property even though they are not making any payments on the home loan.  Then if the bank does not proceed with a sale they essentially have a free place to live until the bank decides to forgive the loan.  The details of who pays property taxes in the interim and how income taxes are handled on the forgiven note will need to be worked out.
  15. wright state October 22, 2009 / 6:43 am
    what about if our neighborhood association leaders are morons.  Don’t address real problems and have no sense of reality.  What if thats why someone chose to join the priority board.  And the president’s term is not up yet. 
  16. David Esrati October 22, 2009 / 7:01 am

    @Wright State

    Can’t be much worse than having morons elected to the City Commission, can it now? :-)

    By implementing a score card system for the neighborhoods, where each association is graded on performance, and pairing stronger neighborhoods with weaker ones (as Gary Leitzell calls this “sister neighborhoods) we should be able to advance every neighborhood at least a bit- as opposed to our current system, where all we’ve added to the equation is an extra layer of bureaucracy.

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

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