A radical, simple plan to revive Dayton

No one will disagree that the beginning of the downfall of Dayton began with busing in the Seventies. It was called “white flight”- but in reality- it was the beginning of the economic divide in Dayton. The ‘burbs grew, the city shrank, and the seeds were sewn for the mess we’re in now. The health of the region depends on the health of the core- and the core has been rotting as pointed out in today’s Dayton Daily News:

‘A quiet disaster’ menaces Dayton
Thirteen-year-old Brittany Jones walks one short block to the school bus stop, but her dad won’t let her make the trip alone.

Every building Brittany passes on the 1600 block of Home Avenue, except one, is boarded, vacant. Eight of the buildings have earned the dubious city designation of nuisance. The eerie rattling of decaying wood and the muffled footsteps of vagrants inside the buildings provide a backdrop for the neighborhood that on the very next block rings with the laughter of children.

“To me, as a parent, it’s scary,” said Marvin Jones, Brittany’s father. “I don’t even like walking past them in the daytime.”

The buildings are part of a tide of blight creeping across many Dayton neighborhoods, an analysis of the city’s nuisance data shows. Driven by poverty, aging housing, an overbuilt market, migration out of the city and a still rising wave of foreclosures, the affected neighborhoods are losing occupants, value and market viability.

The number of properties on the city’s nuisance list has nearly tripled in the last three years, the data show, reaching 636 in October. The city has moved away from its past policy of trying to preserve vacant properties rather than tear them down.

However, tearing down buildings isn’t a solution. There are very few bad buildings, there are bad economics to the buildings- but that’s a matter of the area. At one time, NYC could have torn down SoHo, but then, it wouldn’t have the character it has now- same goes for my neighborhood, South Park. The problem is in the value of the area- and this is where Dayton needs to fix it’s problems- and here are the answers:

It started with the schools, so that’s where we have to start too.

It doesn’t matter if Stivers and Horace Mann and DECA (no longer a DPS school) are doing a great job, the perception is that the Dayton Public Schools are a school of last resort. I’ve proposed a whole set of ideas in the Dayton Public Schools category, but here is the latest:

Turn the Dayton Public Schools over to Sinclair Community College and fund both with a Countywide property tax. First rationale is the brand- Sinclair has the perceived quality and competence to undo the tarnish faster. Second part is that the rest of the County benefited from the economic divide when they siphoned off the higher income families from Dayton, so for a period of 12 years (one complete cycle of students) they will bear the costs of righting the wrongs of the last 30 years. Of course, if the kids in the core district aren’t becoming the future hoods and crooks that the suburbs fear- we’ll all save money in lower costs of jails, retraining, and a dying center city.

An economics lesson

The reason buildings fall into disrepair isn’t because of the type of building- the problem is that the reasons to invest in the area have disapeared.

A while back, I posted an idea of creating a new kind of investment incentive for Dayton- which has large areas designated by the SBA as HUBzone. My plan wasn’t a shy one- the idea wasn’t to boost investment in HUBzones- it was to eliminate them. Read about it here: Crazy Economic Development Idea? In brief, allow unlimited H1-B visas for companies willing to locate offices in a HUBzone- and have the visa holders live within the HUBzone for 10 years.

Incentives for Green Development

Looking forward, there is no doubt that commuting costs will skyrocket. There is another article in todays Dayton Daily News that points out that the highway repair fund is going to dry up. A sustainable future is a return to walkable communities- what Dayton was pre-1950s- when the Eisenhower administration pushed our network of autobahns for “National Security.” Instead of rewarding companies for jobs created with tax breaks, TIF plans, SID taxes (don’t worry- they’re all evil in the long run)- let’s reward companies for only one index in the entire State of Ohio- the walk to work tax credit. I wrote about it here: Go see “An Inconvenient Truth”and I still think it’s a good way to refocus Ohio as a forward thinking green state, to go hand in hand with Governor Stricklands green energy program.

And then- our strengths can shine

I wrote this post long ago-When our “leaders” and “economists” don’t understand what drives jobs and Dan Foley said he had printed it out and carried it in his pocket on the campaign trail (at his swearing in- in front of every powerful person in town). It’s why we shouldn’t have to beg for business to come here. And once Global Warming™ puts the coasts underwater, Dayton is going to look like nirvana.

But until Mother Nature spanks the glow off places like San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami- we have to do some radical things to insure our future.

What do you think of the above ideas?

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18 Responses

  1. Bill Pote December 2, 2007 / 12:56 pm
    David, you are wrong when you say that buildings aren’t the problem and that there are “very few bad buildings”. Sure, many are worth saving and I’m not suggesting that we simply “tear it all down”. But having been on a ride-along with a building inspector here in the city and seen first-hand some of the dilapidated houses with absolutely no architectural charm that you and your neighbors enjoy in South Park, I will tell you that many of these properties NEED to be torn down. Sorry David – not everything is worth saving. Listen to the residents in those neighborhoods that are fed up with the blight and crime that vacant houses bring and they will tell you to tear them down. Your solutions are long-term ones that would take years – even decades – to be beneficial even under the most perfect circumstances (if you could even convince stakeholders to implement them) – meanwhile residents in these run-down neighborhoods will continue to battle abandoned and nuisance houses that attract crime and kill their property values. They don’t want to wait years for complicated long-term solutions that require buy-in from more than just a few stakeholders – they want solutions NOW. The idea I posted on DMM about of demolishing obsolete/nuisance houses and selling the vacant land to responsible adjacent home owners for a dollar is much better, much easier to implement and more likely to have an immediate impact.

    Until the state and the region put a stop to the overbuilding of new houses in a region whose population is stagnant at best, there will always be obsolete and unwanted houses in the city. Tear down the ones that are not worth saving and shut down entire blocks if necessary (seems like I remember hearing you suggest that yourself), and focus on the areas of the city that are viable. When crime is reduced, neighborhoods are improved and residents are no longer afraid to walk outside their doors, you will then see the potential for infill development.

  2. David Esrati December 2, 2007 / 1:09 pm

    Bill-
    Either the taxpayers can tear those “evil buildings” you think are out there- or the private sector can do it- as part of an investment plan.
    The H1 visa option would have investment from top technology companies all over the country investing here in 20 seconds.
    It may be easier to relocate the last few remaining home owners- and just close off blocks.
    You are now sounding like the cynic you accuse me of being.
    Remember, once you tear it down- it’s gone forever. Along with the tax base as an improved property. If you keep doing that, we’ll continue to have less and less revenue- including the money we spent on demolition. Pretty soon- it will be lights out.
    If Dayton schools were perceived differently- maybe there would be a market for $1 homes- with loan programs? Which is still better than spending a few million on demolition.
    Your solution assumes we’re going down the toilet. Mine shows a way out.

  3. Charles Halton December 2, 2007 / 3:36 pm
    David,
    If you run again for public office let me know–I want to be the first contributor to your campaign. We need new and positive ideas like yours. I think the best idea of this post is the walk to work tax credit; this country would be much better off in many ways if this were enacted.
  4. John Ise December 3, 2007 / 2:25 pm
    Great post (in spite of the crack about Miami being underwater being a resident there now). Perhaps the tear down of nusance properties may lend itself to the green development idea (reinterpeting the idea). Rid the city and neighborhoods of eyesores and turn it over to a neighbor to double the size of their yard (thereby enhancing their value and theoretically creating value for the city/neighborhood) or create a community garden, tot lot, whatever. In larger cases where multiple contiguous unts need to come down, create greenways. On the schools, right on!
  5. torgoman December 4, 2007 / 3:37 am
    Instead of simply tearing down nuisance properties and bulldozing it all into a landfill, I think a better and greener idea would be for Dayton to try to salvage as much of the building materials from the houses as possible.

    Something like Buffalo ReUse or Building Value in Cincinnati (featured in the October 2007 issue of This Old House magazine).

    We not only give a neighborhood a chance at a second life; but home owners who are trying to renovate exisisting properties, especially older homes, give these available building materials a second life too.

  6. MattS December 5, 2007 / 9:19 am
    Let’s not overlook the best proposal David makes here – instituting a county-based funding mechanism for DPS. Sinclair can be involved or not – the district’s problems are larger than even an extensive partnership can address. (What if each area university ‘adopted’ a DPS high school, modeled after DECA? One for WSU, one for CSU, etc.?) Shifting the funding burden to the county is the right thing to do.
  7. Mark December 6, 2007 / 11:41 am
    Patterson-Kennedy Elementary on Wyoming has a partnership with nearby UD and with Miami Valley Hospital. UD has provided the school with computers and other IT equipment. At the same time, they use P-K as a laboratory for teachers interested in working urban schools. Miami Valley Hospital has made funding the arts in the school through Muse Machine a permanent budget item for them. After the levy failure cuts, this has become P-K’s only avenue for having the arts in the classroom. So, Matt, your idea is a sound one; one that is already in existence, and which needs to exploited further.
  8. MattS December 6, 2007 / 11:54 pm
    Mark – thanks for the info. Do you know of other partnerships between businesses and institutions and other Dayton schools? It would be a shame if schools in neighborhoods without large and beneficent institutions weren’t able to reap the same benefits.

    I suppose it still comes back to the problem of finding an equitable way to fund inner city schools. Regardless of the material support MVH and UD give it, P-K was still forced to lay off at least one excellent teacher because of the levy failure.

  9. Pam December 7, 2007 / 12:05 pm
    In the early 90s when I was pre-med at Wright State, I helped Professor Batra teach a biology course for college credit at Dunbar. The program was funded by NSF and was designed to encourage women and minorities to choose careers in science.

    We only had 10 students sign up, which was a disappointment. But the defensiveness and hostility of some of the teachers at Dunbar was an even bigger disappointment. They felt that we were invading their turf, threatening their jobs, showing them up, trying to make them look bad, etc.

    For partnerships like this to work, there has to be more than just financial support flowing from one institution to another: you need true collaborative relationships between professionals.

    Those are hard to develop in an atmosphere of paranoia.

  10. Drexel Dave December 7, 2007 / 3:19 pm
    That’s what happens when our public institutions are run like a corporation.
  11. Pedro December 9, 2007 / 3:24 pm
    I would argue, Drexel Dave, that that’s what happens when market forces are even hinted at in a union dominated industry. Pam should have been welcomed with open arms, but instead is greeted with hostility. So what really matters to the DEA? Giving a teeneager a jumpstart into great future, or ensuring the union protected teachers get to keep the ‘gravy-train’ supplemental contracts? You’re a union man DD, what do you think?
  12. Drexel Dave December 9, 2007 / 9:35 pm
    The problem of your premise is that it is based upon the view that education should be a marketable commodity, like soda pop. It’s not.

    As for Pam’s story, that’s only one side of the story. Who What When Where Why? Do You have documentation of this alleged hostility?

    As for union contracts, they are anything but a “gravy train,” anyone is going to get even close to rich on anytime soon. You need to be much more specific towards which contract where before you’ll be taken serious on the subject. RIght now you’re just engaging in vague denigration.

    Teaching within’ an overall culture (one mind you, driven by market forces) that devalues everything intellectual is worthy of much more than the teachers, and anyone who works on the ground floor gets.

  13. Theresa Gasper December 11, 2007 / 11:01 am
    I didn’t think I would disagree with Bill, but it’s just on a point or two. If the City is going to put their eggs in the demolition basket, then they need a PLAN. From what I’ve heard the past year or two, they don’t have one. They come up with a list of nuisance structurs to be torn down, then fire-damaged structures or some other issue supercede and they run out of money before the list is tackled. In the meantime, the number of nuisance structures just continues to grow.

    In other words, they’re just using a hit or miss strategy that only creates scarred block faces that look like war zones. It’s not like they can just go in and acquire all they need to clear out a massive amount of blocks to be redeveloped. If that were easy, we’d have our new Kroger store at Wayne & Wyoming by now.

    What the article didn’t talk about is how long it takes them to get to the point where they can legally tear down a structure. And even if they do tear it down, the original owner often still owns the LOT, so it’s still not ready to be redeveloped.

    And even if it were a planned project to acquire multiple blocks to redevelop – who is going to do it? The problem is that we have more houses than we have people in the region. If we bring in the developers that typically (over)develop the suburbs, then we’re not going to end up with affordable housing. We’ll just have McMansions in the City – and probably not in a neighborhood where the people who buy McMansions would feel safe living – because it’s in the dreaded City of Dayton and we all know it’s not SAFE to live in the City of Dayton. (yes, that’s dripping with sarcasm).

    I do agree that many buildings are beyond repair and must come down. But I do not agree with just firing up the bulldozers and having at it. That’s what they wanted to do in the Oregon District 30 years ago. If citizens had not stepped up to the plate, bought & renovated the houses, just think of the loss of tax revenue over that 30 year period and beyond. Houses that “should have been torn down” then are now selling for $300-350,000!

    I DO agree that the region needs to come up with a growth boundary to contain sprawl (similar to what Portland OR has done), or the donut effect of the region will continue.

    I DO firmly believe that if the City had a dedicated and focused Housing COURT that would implement some ordinances with TEETH, then many of the now boarded up houes would never have fallen into such a state of disrepair. Someone in the City has got to come up with a plan to hold irresponsible absentee owners accountable for the condition of their investment properties. They have learned how to play the system. They know nothing of consequence will happen to them if they ignore the citations. And if there are fines, it’s often cheaper to just pay them than to make the needed repair.

    When the City can come up with a solid plan to prevent the decay, or to legally confiscate the property and sell it to someone who will properly care for it, then we’ll make progress in eliminating the nuisance structures.

    The City MUST develop a proactive stance to difficult problems instead of constantly reacting to them.

  14. Jeff December 11, 2007 / 5:17 pm
    I recall reading that the city had some sort of three level priority system set up for demolitions, where they would tear down structures that were on a good blocks, or had inhabited houses all around it as a first priority.

    That seemed like a good idea.

    The comment about the lot still remaining with the owner, even if the city tears down the house?….wow, what a great deal for the property owner! The city just saved him or her a demo contract fee.

    I’d say if there was some mechanism for the city to take over the lot as well as house that would be a better deal for the neighborhood as the city could turn it over to neighboring property owners or at least hold it or re-sell it.

  15. David Esrati December 11, 2007 / 10:04 pm

    I think that the 10-15 million that they say it would cost to tear down houses- could be better used to subsidize redevelopment of houses. Afterall- there are going to be a lot of people unable to afford their current suburban mansions as the housing crunch continues. Give them a home they can afford- and voila- no longer a nuisance- and generating revenue. It doesn’t take a genius to make an empty lot- it does take some smarts to fill it.

  16. Drexel Dave December 12, 2007 / 5:24 am
    If the troops ever come home, it would be a great job for Army National Guard combat engineers to do on their weekends.

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