5 of 6 structures in Dayton are occupied

Photo by David Esrati of the demolition of the OOF hall in St. Annes Hill

We tear our city down literally- too well.

The Dayton Daily news headline is “1 in 6 structures in Dayton are vacant” and it sounds horrible.

Of course it does- because the Dayton Daily news thinks bashing Dayton is good for selling papers (not that they are doing a good job of that- you can now giveaway 4 subscriptions with your one subscription for free….).

The real story is in where the vacancies are- and how much money the city is pouring into the hands of demolition contractors, instead of doing things to strengthen the city.

Here are some excerpts from the DDn hack story:

About one in six structures in Dayton are vacant even though the city has spent millions of dollars knocking down eyesores and some areas show strong signs of blight reversal.

Urban decay continues to plague area neighborhoods, including a handful in which more than one-third of structures are empty or abandoned, according to the results of a citywide property survey obtained by this newspaper.

Vacant homes and buildings drag down property values, attract criminal activity and provide neighbors with a disincentive to invest in their properties.

But the survey data show that less than 10 percent of structures are vacant in nearly half the city’s neighborhoods, suggesting some stabilization in the housing and commercial real estate markets.

The city and its partners have removed more than 2,200 structures since 2009. The city has spent $18 million or more on demolition.

“We’re not out of the woods, but I think these numbers show things are improving,” said Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development.

Earlier this year, Dayton hired the Ohio-based Thriving Communities Institute to survey all parcels in the city to document their conditions and whether or not they are occupied.

Two-person teams spent months canvassing the city to assess, map and photograph every structure and empty lot. The information will be used to create a database to guide Dayton’s demolition strategy and how it invests community development funds.

The survey found the city is home to about 53,574 parcels containing structures. Of those, about 6,601 — or 12 percent of the total — have vacant homes, buildings, garages and other structures.

No one next door

Blight casts a long shadow over day-to-day life for some residents of the Santa Clara neighborhood.

Santa Clara was ground zero of Ohio’s foreclosure crisis. Five years ago, government data showed it was one of the 10 most abandoned areas in the country…

More than 35 percent of structures in the Santa Clara neighborhood are vacant. It had the highest proportion of vacant structures out of Dayton’s 66 neighborhoods.Some other parts of the city are nearly as empty. More than one in three structures are vacant in the Southern Dayton View and Roosevelt neighborhoods.

There is no directly comparable data for previous years, because the U.S. Census only measures individual units and not structures.

Still, the 2010 Census found that nearly half of units were empty in the Santa Clara area. About 44 percent of units were uninhabited in Southern Dayton View and 40 percent were unoccupied in Roosevelt, the Census said.

Combined, Santa Clara, Dayton View and Roosevelt have 844 abandoned structures, which tend to attract drug users, prostitutes, metal thieves and fire bugs.

But despite the prevalence of run-down properties, the city’s problem with abandonment seems to be receding as decrepit homes and buildings are reduced to rubble.

In Santa Clara, the city has leveled dozens of structures since the late 2000s, including some of the most abominable eyesores. The city has prioritized removing fire-damaged structures and blight along major corridors as well as in “asset development areas” near schools, employers and institutions.

City officials estimated Dayton had about 8,000 to 9,000 empty structures in 2009.

If those numbers are accurate, Dayton’s supply of abandoned structures has been reduced by as much as 27 percent.

“I think in most neighborhoods, there has been a decrease in the number of vacancies,” Sorrell said.

Notably, in 31 neighborhoods, fewer than one in 10 structures are empty.

And in some areas, residents can count the number of empty structures on two hands.For instance, less than 1 percent of structures are empty in the Forest Ridge / Quail Hollow neighborhood.

In the Eastmont, Gateway, Pheasant Hill, Shroyer Park and Patterson Park neighborhoods, less than 2 percent of structures are vacant.

The problem, however, remains daunting.

On average, it costs the city about $11,000 to demolish and remediate abandoned properties.

Based on that rough estimate, it would still cost the city tens of millions of dollars to dramatically decrease the number of vacant structures.

Source: 1 in 6 structures in Dayton are vacant

Let’s analyze the problem. In some neighborhoods, vacancy is running much higher. This means either no one wants to live there because the housing stock is too far gone, there is too much crime, there are no amenities, or, most importantly- there is no security in investing because no one sees a future where they get their money back. This is business 101.

Other neighborhoods the vacancy rates are much lower- but still too high.

Some neighborhoods aren’t having problems at all- and still have some vacancies.

Instead of fixing the problems that cause people to disinvest, we “invest” in demolition. We’ve spent millions of dollars taking tax generating inventory off the shelf. We get zero return for doing this. At an average cost of $11,000 just to tear a property down, that’s $11,000 that could go toward relocating neighbors into the solid neighborhoods- or to the ones where vacancies are just beginning to be a problem. We could also hire a new policeman for every 6 houses we tear down- to try to stop the “drug users, prostitutes, metal thieves and fire bugs” that these vacant houses supposedly attract.

We have not gone after banks to stop foreclosures- or hold them accountable for the properties that they empty out. We not only lose a citizen, we know that when we kick people out- the houses are getting scrapped and become worthless almost overnight. The cost is huge. Stop evicting people, unless you hold the banks accountable for the condition of the homes.

In order to see investment return, there has to be some kind of real plan in place to make the neighborhood attractive to investors. Why not waive all property taxes for any investor that purchases at least 3 homes in the same under-populated neighborhood- and give them $5000 each toward rehab? Condition of tax waiver- at least one tenant paying income tax per property. This means no more mowing lots, no more blight- and the houses have to meet exterior code. We have no problem waiving taxes for employers- why not do it for small investors?

We had a company in Dayton that hired x-cons to tear down houses and recycle the materials- we put them out of business by not awarding contracts fairly or smartly.

There are parts of Dayton that are doing OK- but, they can’t afford to keep paying to tear down others problems. You don’t build a city up by tearing it down. At some point, you just have to give up on providing services and worrying about neighborhoods that are half-empty and start working on keeping others from joining them.

Wake up people. Your leadership isn’t wearing clothes on this one.

The cheap bastards in Dayton City Hall

When I first got involved in my second career as an unpaid citizen of Dayton, I found our city to be overly bureaucratic. We had our neighborhood organization, that got things done- and then we had the mysterious “Priority Boards” which were a huge bureaucratic buffer zone between the neighborhood and the City Commission. They had offices, staffed with several full-time employees, who made pretty decent money. More money than the city commissioners who were part-time, and supposedly the brain trust that was steering our city to prosperity.

When I, or anyone else would go to the City Commission with a complaint, they’d say “have you been to your priority board about this?” As if it was a crime to actually talk to and expect action from those we elect.

The city patted itself on the back often for being such a model of “citizen participation”- when in fact, it was just another place to hire people into patronage jobs. It really didn’t require any skill to work for the priority boards- it was all about who you knew.

So, each neighborhood had to have its own organization- a neighborhood association, which ideally was a non-profit (a 501 c-3 by the tax code), and had to hold elections to have at minimum a leader, a treasurer and a recording secretary, and then, depending on the size of your neighborhood elected representatives to your priority board seats- which could be anywhere from 1 to 4 in our case. The problem was that the neighborhoods, planning districts and precincts didn’t follow any of the same boundaries- making for coordinating the many heads more like a Hydra than a true democratic process.

At one point, to make sure the neighborhoods had a say- additional seats were created per organization, be it a full fledged neighborhood association or even a block club. Throw out proportional representation- just try to fill the rooms- to keep the patronage pogues looking busy.

The system was expensive- with offices in the seven “districts” of the city. Southeast held about 40% of the population- and always seemed to have the most “representation.” The downtown priority board was an afterthought- and didn’t even have a full-time staffer. The historic districts were split between all the priority boards- when in fact- they, along with downtown, were the ones who were most alike- and could have had a really strong voice if they hadn’t been segregated.

While the city was still flush with cash- thanks to corporate headquarters like Reynolds & Reynolds, Mead, Standard Register, NCR- it was easy to blow money on the priority board patronage jobs- which could be counted on around election time to help the Democratic Party have an Army to make sure their chosen candidates got elected. All was good and fine…

Until, well, the system broke and a Republican managed to get elected Mayor. Mike Turner, managed to tick off Reynolds & Reynolds CEO David Holmes- getting Holmes to put a ton of money behind Tony Capizzi to challenge Turner- and when Turner won again- Holmes took his company to Kettering.

There were other things at play, some pre-Turner, with Tom Danis buying off Police Chief Tyree Broomfield to step down, games played with an “Architectural review committee” slowing down the city-funded Arcade tower project- so Danis could get his Cit/Fed tower built first- and who knows what the Beerman family was doing to keep their real estate deals going- where they were making a fortune off the construction of 675, and CJ McLin and his daughter Rhine were doing the same with the 35 West deal.

The priority board system was a way to make the poor citizens of Dayton think they mattered, when in fact, they were just there to keep the party in power so that the friends and family of the Monarchy of Montgomery County could continue to kiss the wealthy asses of those who really were supporting our city.

I’d advocated for getting rid of the priority boards from day one- to have neighborhood presidents meet directly with the city manager 4 times a year. Note- the city manager- not the mayor or the commission, they aren’t supposed to be the ones running our city, but we’ve long forgotten that.

So, in today’s paper, we find out that what’s left of the vaulted citizen participation system is about $96K a year thrown out to the paupers to play pretend with- compared to a budget that used to run close to $8 million a year:

The city provided about $13,000 for 27 neighborhood festivals this year.

The city also awarded $83,046 in mini-grants to 20 neighborhood projects this year, three times the amount in 2014.

Source: Dayton pushes policy reforms

I always found it odd, that 25 years ago- our neighborhood thought it was a privilege to get to ride around on the back of a trash truck once a month on a Saturday morning to pick up the garbage that our overpaid trash collectors skipped.

People in other communities would wonder why would you pay your taxes to spend your Saturdays doing “community service” without a court order.

This is the travesty of Dayton. While the people who are still here fighting to make their community a nice place to live, and paying the 2nd highest income tax in the county, the cheap bastards in city hall are bragging about “awarding back less than $100,000 a year” to help those who volunteer- while giving multi-million-dollar tax breaks to General Electric, while raising trash and street light fees, and still having no problem buying buildings for half a million each- for which there is no public use.

Yeah. “Cheap bastards” is actually a nice name, for people who are really taking a crap on the people they represent. And, one other thing, you shouldn’t have to work so hard to have a great, safe, clean neighborhood. You should be able to spend your time living your life.

It’s not an enforceable law until someone gets shot

Hookah Star Hookah Bar

Hookah Hell on Wayne Avenue

The Hookah Star Smoke Shop and Natural Juice Bar wasn’t a normal retail establishment. It wasn’t a bar either- it was a party palace, especially after 2am when normal bars closed.

It’s been a sore spot for the South Park neighborhood almost as soon as it opened. Loud music, trash, and the patrons running around the ‘hood at all hours on Friday and Saturday nights. The police had finally started showing up the last few weeks to shut it down and clear it out. They also were checking it out on curfew sweeps the last few weekends at 11- to catch kids under 18 out after 11.

On Aug 3rd after one of the police raids, the owner posted this on his FB feed:

Nimr Ibrahim shared his post. August 3 at 2:46pm · Nimr Ibrahim People think we shut down but we not we was over capacity we was jumping and they come and fuck the night up but its all good we still jumping ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Source: (1) Nimr Ibrahim

So he thinks he’s just in trouble for “over capacity” due to fire code. Apparently, the City doesn’t do a good job of explaining permitted uses to him. He was operating the wrong kind of business in the building at the wrong time.

After the shooting early Sunday morning as the police came for a 3am roust, the city finally takes zoning seriously:

The city’s zoning department, on Monday, told the Hookah Star & Smoking Shop, 1243 Wayne Ave. to cease occupancy immediately because the zoning district does not allow nightclubs.

“To me, it’s crazy. They consider a hookah bar a night club – it’s not a nightclub,” said owner Namr Ibrahim. He cited the absence of alcohol, a dance floor and strippers at the Hookah Star to support his claim.

Neighborhood groups said the smoke shop has allowed large crowds to gather at all hours of the night and early morning.The business has been a magnet for noise and troublemakers who often visit the shop after the bars close at 2 a.m., according to neighbors.

Source: Dayton moves to close hookah bar after shooting | www.mydaytondailynews.com

Hmm, not a night club- but “we was jumping.”

No other competent city would have let this go on for so long. Here is a legitimate public nuisance, ruining the quality of life for a neighborhood that has done everything within its power to pick itself up- so successfully in fact, that the property tax values were raised, when everyone elses went down.

If the city spent more time doing the things they were supposed to be doing, instead of buying vacant buildings downtown with no stated public use, for $150K over appraised value, maybe no one would have gotten shot.

Then again, maybe that’s what it takes to get laws enforced in Dayton.

Slush fund, Architect and Developer: the three ring circus of public/private partnerships

The very first slide started with an oops, another oops, and another oops.

Up steps Steve Budd of CityWide Development (the slush fund) with a slide of the holdings of CityWide, Miami Valley Hospital and maybe even the University of Dayton between 35 and Wyoming Street along the Brown/Warren corridor. And, no, we won’t mention the words we used to call this development (Mid-Park) because we know it ticks off the people we’re talking to (South Park) about our little circus.

The map with the yellow line was showing “all the property we own” except for the little antique shop at Oak and Warren according to Mr. Budd. Except he quickly was asked if he owned Jimmie’s Ladder 11, Spin City- and oh yeah, the two houses that are left on the West side of Warren- where the powers that be haven’t made an offer with enough commas in it yet.

Aerial view of Warren Street

The “owned” area in yellow- the red, added by me, is the stuff that’s not owned by the developers including Spin City, Jimmie’s Ladder 11, the Antique Shop and the two houses on the west side of Warren

I’ve marked the known “not owned” in red- inside the yellow border of “owned” for clarification. No mention was made of the fact the city had “misdeeded” some of the real estate in question in a lot links deal- and someone may be holding out for another pretty paycheck.

Why they were talking to the neighborhood at all is a really good question. At no point have they come to us, the neighborhood, and actually asked what we want- just what we want to see as tenants in their grand building plans- you know, the norm- a grocery store, a hardware store, a book store…

The parcel in question came into their hands when DMHA/GDPM gave up on their “projects” off Warren which were part of the 60’s 70’s “urban renewal” programs- where they tore down perfectly good housing stock that had lost its luster and replaced it with crap construction of ugly buildings dropped out of the sky into our ‘hood. The promise then was that it was going to be “senior housing” – the only thing senior about it, “Cliburn Manor,”  when I moved into South Park in 1986 was it looked like it was near death.

So the slush fund has to make sure they have another success story in the portfolio of mismanaged tax-dollar aided projects, and is bequeathed the federal property to manage. They seek out a developer, who is willing to take a “great risk” building something in the city of Dayton- so they promise to make them whole, no matter how silly the project scope and scale is.

In this case, the developer is Oberer. The same people who did the funky deal on the Dille Farm, where they built a Costco in Centerville, but expect ambulances from Sugarcreek Township- as once again, government had inserted itself unnaturally in the middle of a real estate deal. They have hired, at considerable expense, some research firm to tell them that there is a market for the 200 plus units they’ve plotted and planned for the aforementioned area. Of course, they are going to do this deal with OPM (other people’s money) and are guaranteed by the taxpayer-funded slush fund that they won’t lose a dime- since we know we’ll make income tax go up while you build it- and who cares if anyone actually comes. They just have to “git ‘r done” and have something rise from the green space. Filling the space won’t even fall back on them. Look at how CityWide still hasn’t found a ground floor tenant for the old Elder Beerman/ReyReyTAC building downtown.

If you need an example of another project that was done like this, go study the history of One Arcade Tower/One Dayton Center/Fifth/Third Center– or whatever they call it at the corner of Third and Main. The one that wasn’t supposed to be built until 33% of it was leased- but, we ignored it and built it anyway…. and lost our butts.

In our third ring of the circus, we have the architect. While an equal player at this point- he’s really going to end up the ringmaster later, once construction begins, but for now, he’s just another part of the distraction engine that’s trying to divert attention from the fact that Dayton is looking at these new construction projects like the Cleveland Browns do when playing the Patriots- let’s keep throwing Hail Mary passes because we’ve already lost 8 of 12 and aren’t going anywhere.

The architect, in this case, Jason Sheets of Moda 4, is a super talented guy who makes cheap look chic, and clean and classy. The only problem is, we’ve already got a few examples up Brown Street that make anything look like an improvement- namely the horribly ugly and dysfunctional “University Place” that Miller Valentine built at the corner of Stewart and Brown- which still isn’t full- years later- and almost every restaurant has taken a year to build out- because of poor planning by the “architects” – and then the other Miller Valentine embarrassment- the heinously ugly mishmash finish Caldwell Street housing that replaced the irreplaceable Frank Z building on Brown. His role in this is to keep billing while everyone else argues about the plan.

Moda 4 just completed the Goodwill Building across from Coco’s- the one with the expansive parking lot- and the stark cold exterior. Not exactly a good match for eclectic South Park- but, we’re trying here.

We’ve already got a CityWide case study up in Fairgrounds- where the Genesis Project built a whole bunch of funky houses and row houses for “DINCS” and hospital employees and UD Profs- that was promised never to become student housing (they lied). Where roofs are leaking less than 10 years out, taxes are kicking in at the same time, and what was supposed to be full of homeowners- is now in flux.

As the homeowners filed out, wondering if what they’d been shown was anything like what will be built, one after another in the Goodwill parking lot- looked across the street at Marvin Gardens, which is owned by St. Mary Development Corp.- and thought- why can’t they build something that looks like that?

Marvin Garden Apartments on Warren Street

Marvin Gardens Apartments as seen from Goodwill parking lot

So as neighbors sat and looked at the presentation, with mouths agape, wondering what planet these people were from, they were serving their ultimate, yet, unrevealed role they will be used for in the future.

As the project sputters and spurts, the three-ring acts will be able to point at the neighbors and blame them for the delays, mistakes and failures that are to come, as the city shirks its responsibility to do what it’s supposed to- mainly sweep and repair streets, provide public services and safety forces and keep the lights on.

The only question that really needs to be answered is why the property wasn’t just sold off to the highest bidder and let them do as they please?
In the end, the results will probably be about the same.

 

A new tool for successful “Community Based Policing”

South Park has been lucky. For at least the last 20 years, we’ve had a “Community Based Police Officer” or two- paid for by the good folks at Premier Health Partners/Miami Valley Hospital.

Since we’re a Historic District, and they can’t just bulldoze South Park- they figured they better make sure it’s safe, so their employees and patients aren’t scared away- or car jacked on the way to the hospital. At first, we even had a social worker working with the CBP’s as we like to refer to them- to work out issues where the police may not be the best solution. It was an attempt to do creative problem solving. It wasn’t the right answer.

Since the effort began, things have changed thanks to the Internet, Facebook and a strong neighborhood organization. A private group started on FB to discuss and report crime within the ‘hood. Now when your car got broken into- you’d know instantly if you were a single target- or if they had walked a few streets on the way to your car. People would then review their security cams. One of our neighbors who was adamantly against video surveillance- ended up finding out who totaled her boyfriend’s car thanks to a neighbor who caught it on video. We could share mugshots of the people who were police suspects- we now know who to be wary of, and what they are wanted for. But, even with increased information, we were still not getting the results we wanted.

There was one petty thief who kept returning to the neighborhood to live with his mom between stints in prison, and like clockwork, we knew when he was out as garage burglaries picked up. He solved our problem by finally OD’ing on heroin. One problem solved. Unfortunately now, he might be saved by a police officer with Narcan. I’m not so sure I’m a fan of Narcan unless the very next step is always a year-long treatment/rehabilitation program that’s inpatient and that works. Otherwise, we’re just recycling our problems.

This last crime spree was getting increasingly annoying. You’ve seen the post about our neighborhood cancer home, and there have been a few other stories in the news. Enter the most successful crime-fighting tool we’ve found: a former Dayton cop who knows the system inside and out.

He has served as an advocate for the community, collecting all the information about the crimes, the perps, their records, their probation status- and working with the police and the prosecutors to make the case as strong as possible. You know those cork boards of criminal families you see in cop shows- he’s building them and getting input from residents on who is related to who, and who their friends or “running buddies” are. This all takes time.

He’s given the neighborhood the information to write letters to judges just before the case comes to trial. He’s worked with police and the probation department to do spot bed checks on juveniles with court-imposed curfews. With prosecutors, police and probation officials all overworked, he’s served as their criminal concierge, serving up the bad guys for maximum effect when they get to court. The focus on outcomes being reported back in a timely fashion, makes it clear to all that this is now a neighborhood that won’t accept plea bargains, light sentences or too many chances for the low-lifers who are making our neighborhood suffer.

So far, we’ve got about 8 bad actors getting hit hard with the full book. We’re still looking at going into mediation with one crime house to see what it will take to just get them to leave the area. Others are being tossed by landlords who “didn’t know.” Never before have we had such a good flow of information about the courts, the police, the perps and the outcomes.

Here is the secret to successful community based policing in summary:

  • Have a well-defined neighborhood with good boundaries.
  • Have a strong neighborhood organization, with a great online communication structure.
  • Assign at least two police officers to the neighborhood, who come to meetings, share a private number and are highly visible and well known to the neighbors.
  • Provide information on criminal records, mug shots, good descriptions of the problem children to the community. Make it clear who the police think are suspects, and ask for help with license plates, hours of activity, what they are wearing etc.
  • Have a coordinator who knows the police, probation, judges, court system, prosecutors working to collect and organize everything from insurance claims, video surveillance footage, records, and serve as a communications hub between all parties.
  • Monitor judges’ and the prosecutors’ performance, always asking for maximum sentences, and minimal plea bargaining.

In the last month, we’ve seen probation revoked, landlords evicting, cases consolidated and coordinated and even new efforts with “surge patrolling” by the police department, “bait” programs to catch petty thieves stealing, and a heightened level of alert, resulting in more people calling to report even the smallest of criminal behavior, or when we hear gunshots. Things that used to be ignored, now go reported, and have led to arrests.

Ideally, it shouldn’t be this difficult to live in the City of Dayton. Oakwood residents never have to commit this amount of time and energy to providing for their public safety. It’s unfortunate that the focus of our leaders hasn’t been a clean, safe community for decades, but that’s the first level of building strong communities. The foundation. The one that can’t be ignored- ever.

In the next few weeks we’ll find out if more judges respond to these improved tactics and how it changes things in South Park. Will the criminal element that lives and steals here learn that crime won’t pay in South Park anymore? To be continued…

 

Candidates nights: the inside scoop before the last 3 events

I try to keep all the events posted for people at www.electesrati.com/events, as far as I know, I’m the only one who does this, and certainly the only one who videotapes every event and posts them to youtube.

Tomorrow night we have the UpDayton forum at Wiley’s Comedy Club. Trust me, being able to drink while listening to most candidates talks makes it more bearable. Unfortunately, I don’t drink.

Let me explain the devolution of politics for you. We don’t have debates.

Here’s the definition- it seems to be forgotten: a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.

The way most candidates present: My name is ______________, I was born in Dayton, went to school at _____________, work doing _______________.

The audience should immediately start braying like a donkey. As if the candidate had anything to do with where they were born- and as if an education counts as qualifications for election (one only needs to look at Congress to see that anyone is equally capable of being a moron and elected at the same time).

Then they launch into their “platform”- which is either a history of committees or posts they’ve served on or their previous elected experience. At no point do they actually talk about anything they plan on doing- unless they are referring to some vaguely worded “plan” “roadmap” or “blueprint”- none of which means anything (especially if they’ve already been holding office and haven’t already implemented at least part of it….). Then they remind you of their name and to vote for them. Wow.

When it comes to questions- no, voters don’t ask about multi-million dollar investments in real estate by the city, or tax breaks for General Electric, or police hiring, or voting records, no, they ask about red light cameras and speed cameras. At least of the incumbents.

Never are candidates given the chance to ask each other questions, never are discussions focused on a subject for anything other tan a cursory 2 minute answer- without any give and take. The closest we’ve had to real questions was at the AIA lunch event, where a moderator asked questions we were supposedly given in advance. And, still, the answers didn’t require much research or thought.

That’s why this Thursday, Preservation Dayton may provide one of the most interesting events of this season. I am posting the entire communication they sent in prep last night for you to see what real, substantive questions look like. I hope to see you at the RTA center on Thursday night:

Candidates’ Forum – Vision for Protecting & Improving Dayton’s Housing and Commercial Buildings
Thurs. Oct. 24, 2013 7 – 9 p.m.
Dayton RTA Cultural and Community Center 40 S. Edwin C. Moses Boulevard, Dayton, OH, 45402 (937) 333-2489

Questions for candidates:

1) Building code compliance has been a major challenge for the City of Dayton for over 50 years. Deterioration of many Dayton neighborhoods has been drastically accelerated by predatory lending, unemployment, the financial crisis and more.

Given that many of these forces are largely uncontrollable, how would you go about protecting our existing, viable housing and building inventory if elected in November? And where does housing and building code compliance fall on your list of priorities for the City?

2) Compared to other Ohio cities, Dayton seems to lag in innovative policies, ordinances and operational solutions to proactively keep housing and commercial buildings up to code and to address many of the root causes of code violations. Here are some examples:

  • Point of sale exterior inspections e.g. Huber Heights
  • An annual fee for all vacant, undeveloped properties, not just bank-owned properties as recently passed by the Commission e.g. Cincinnati and Sandusky
  • The requirement for all absentee landlords to have a legally registered agent in the City who is held accountable on behalf of the property owner to comply with building codes e.g. Oxford
  • Giving police officers and other appropriate city employees authority to issue building and zoning code violation notices
  • A revolving fund, zero interest loans or other financial solutions to assist low income property owners bring their properties up to code

If elected in November, would you be willing to take a leadership position to implement any of these best practices or any other creative solutions proven to work in cities similar to Dayton? Why or why not?

3) As budgets and staff decrease, how would you go about getting your fellow commissioners and the city staff to fund the necessary budget, technology and staff to implement your vision for improving building code compliance?

Closing remarks: 2 – 3 minute summary of your priorities for improving proactive and efficient code compliance.

Format: Each candidate will be asked to speak on 2 – 3 questions for 3 minutes each. The questions will focus on legislative, policy and operational solutions for addressing deteriorating properties and ensuring the ongoing viability of stable properties in our city.

Audience members will write their questions on 3 X 5 cards and panel moderators will read the questions for your responses.
At approximately 8:40, each candidate will be given 2 – 3 minutes to summarize your top priorities for improving and protecting Dayton’s housing and commercial buildings.

Although these questions are tightly focused on the area of building codes and legal remedies, there are real questions and suggested positions to defend. One could almost learn something concrete from this forum.

Also note, if you are putting together a forum- don’t invite too many candidates because it makes it impossible to get enough substance out of the candidates. Do have a strict timekeeper, and make sure if accepting questions from the audience that they must be a question, they must be brief and focused and directed to all candidates- or all are given equal time to speak. Give at least several weeks notice- and try to make sure that there aren’t other events (like a commission meeting at the same time). Provide a PA- and preferably have the candidates speak from a podium- so that a camera only has to be focused one place.

If you’d like to be extra useful- collect names, emails and phone numbers of all in attendance and deliver to the candidates so they can continue the discussion. Also be aware of candidates bringing entourages to ask questions- instead, give the candidates at least one chance to ask each other questions.

Last but not least, don’t be jerks and try to limit public dissemination of your event. Banning cameras and recording devices- esp at events open to the public is embarrassing (Wayman Chapel on Sunday- this means you). Running for public office is, well, public. Let the first amendment do its job.

UPDATE

Here’s the video

Neighborhood plans from lifetime politicians don’t amount to much

One of my cottages needs painting. The city has written me up. It’s scraped to the bare wood- and needs a final sanding, washing and then priming with a good oil based primer and then a premium latex top coat. Most people wouldn’t scrape it to bare wood, but, that’s the only way to do a proper paint job on a 100 year old house with 104 siding.

When I bought it from the slumlord, it had asbestos shingles on it. I could have left them on and kept painting away, but I didn’t. It also was being used as an illegal drugstore- that bothered me more than what it looked like. That’s because neighborhoods aren’t made up of houses, they are made up of people. That’s why I bought that cottage and the one next to it- right across the street from my house. Since 1996 I’ve had good people living in both of them. They work, they pay rent, they don’t have 22 police calls a year like another house on my block.

A.J. Wagner, thinks the answer to fixing our neighborhoods is strong enforcement of housing codes:

The very survival of our neighborhoods and our entire City requires an expanded level of accountability and focus. Many of our neighborhoods are in a dismal state of decline. Dayton spent $10 million last year on housing demolition only to fall further behind on the number of houses that cannot be saved. This trend can only be reversed through a strong enforcement of housing codes.

via A.J. Wagner’s Neighborhood Plan | A.J. Wagner for Mayor 2013.

Nan Whaley thinks the solution is tearing down the houses that have fallen into disrepair (of course when you get big donations from demolition contractors and landfill operators it may sway your policy too). Considering she’s been on the commission for 8 years, for her to have any new plan or idea on how to solve this problem is farcical. She weighs in on Wagner’s plan (correctly for once) in the Dayton Daily news:

Whaley said of Wagner’s plan, “This isn’t a neighborhood plan, it’s a housing plan and a bad one at that.” She asked where the money will come from for Wagner’s extra inspectors, and said Wagner wrongly downplays the city’s demolition efforts. Wagner’s plan claims Dayton spent $10 million on demolition last year, when the total was actually $2.36 million in 2012, according to city officials, and roughly $10 million from 2009-12.

“We need to create incentives for buying and restoring blighted property, but Wagner’s plan punishes homeowners and creates more bureaucratic red tape,” Whaley said….

Wagner said he is uniquely qualified to deal with neighborhood housing problems, because he’s dealt with code violations as an attorney, property tax enforcement as a county auditor, foreclosure cases as a judge, and probate cases as a referee and counselor.via Mayoral candidate targets neighborhood quality.

The paper also quotes Leitzell, who isn’t a career politician and has actually restored a home or two, and led a neighborhood (as have I):

Leitzell said the solution is “much simpler” than Wagner’s plan.

“Marketing Dayton at a national level and attracting talented people and immigrants to fill the hundreds of unfilled high-tech jobs here would go a long way toward solving some of these neighborhood problems,” Leitzell said.

Notice, Leitzell talks about people- and filling homes? He gets it. People make neighborhoods- not the buildings. That was the sales pitch I made to the neighborhood when I made our marketing video, “South Park Soliloquy” back in 1996. It wasn’t about the historic homes, it was about the people and the neighborhood. It’s 30 minutes long- but still worth watching.

The idea of legislating our housing stock into desirability is embarrassing. It shows how out of touch Wagner is with the plights of our neighborhoods. We have laws against drug houses too, and we can’t enforce those. And, as I’ve said before, my office building was ready for demolition when I bought it, and the number one thing holding people back from rehabbing it was that the number of hoops I had to jump through to do it didn’t equal the potential value after completion for most. I looked at it differently- knowing that it helped the value of my home, and that by making it possible for me to walk to work for 23 years I’d be saving a lot of money on gas and time in travel.

There are lots of things we can do that don’t cost a ton of money to bring our neighborhoods back, but they are only going to come back if the people in the neighborhoods now believe in their own neighborhoods’ future, the people around them, and that they will live in a safe place. We don’t do that by making sure a house is painted or it has gutters or we’ll fine you. In fact, Wagner’s requirement of having a home that’s rundown fixed before it can be sold will probably cause even more abandoned real estate and deeds turned over to a city that has a lousy history of rehab and a 29-year backlog on demolition.

There are no short answers, political slogan worthy solutions to fixing our neighborhoods (or housing stock). For me to explain my ideas fully would take nearly a book, but it comes down to empowering neighborhoods to ramp up their density, or circle the wagons and weather the storm. What we have to be most focused on is quality of life, and empowering people to make their own futures, because government can’t solve all the problems- it can just strive to do government as efficiently and effectively as possible. Instead of worrying about the paint, let’s worry about police response times. Instead of worrying about the gutters on your eaves, lets get the people who require the multiple police calls a month to leave and that they aren’t welcome here. Instead of tearing down houses, let’s try to make neighborhood programs that bring people (young and old) together so that when they want to sell their friends on moving into their neighborhood- it’s the people you live next door to that sell the neighborhood more than the buildings.

Dayton loses talent: the Buckmans have left the building

It was probably around 1995 or so. Bill Rain and David Williams had just finished the Lofts of St. Clair, a conversion of the butt-ugly Pinsky Produce building on St. Clair. The aluminum siding had been torn off to expose a beautiful brick building. It had color- and a roof garden. They’d shoved probably one too many “lofts” per floor into it- making them more like apartments than lofts (lofts then were still supposed to be lofts- with open floor plans- and the only real private room being the “privvy.”

The ground floor had office space – a “mixed use” development. OMG. In Downtown Dayton? The city had given them grief about the amazing old HUGE freight elevator (big enough to put your car on it) being used by mere mortals- the project was a condo- so the building owners would be allowed to use it – but not visitors… or some such nonsense. The basement had become a parking garage- a very tight one- but, it worked.

Photo stolen from Barry Buckman's facebook profile

Barry Buckman. Architect. Visionary.

The architects on the project were to be the commercial tenants in the “front” office space- Mary Rogero and Barry Buckman- who had decided to leave Woolpert to begin doing what they thought was missing in Dayton- urban modernist architecture. At first, they lived off  projects for Citywide and social-service type grant projects and a few small commissions, but as time moved forward so did the ambition meter. It was here that I first met these urban visionaries who would go on to transform Dayton almost by themselves.

Barry’s wife opened a hip little gift shop, “GO Home” next door to the first upscale restaurant on Fifth Street in the Oregon District- Pacchia. She sold home accessories from companies like Umbra and Alessi, as well as cards, and gift items. She was an architect too- but saw an opening in the market and went for it. The store was different- in that almost all the store fixtures were made by the owner and her husband. A lot of MDF that looked raw yet finished. The racks were on industrial wheels. People waiting to get into Pacchia would browse and buy, there was a reason to go down to the Oregon District to actually buy something other than entertainment or jewelery. Things were looking up.

As Rogero Buckman grew- and evolved to become just RBA– Dayton saw the fruits of their creativity. I’m not going to list everything- just the ones that seemed to really change things:

They turned the vacant and condemnable church at the corner of Cass and Clay into a rock climbing temple- the Urban Krag. It was a stunning re-purposing of a building that had lost its ability to function in a world that requires huge parking lots to serve the purpose it was intended for. I could take a little credit on this one, as I helped Karl and Melissa find this building after their plans for the still vacant DP&L steam building on the corner of 4th and St. Clair never worked out.

They inspired the church’s owner, Tim Patterson, to also try converting the church that backed up to it at Van Buren and Clay- into luxury condos- and the Buckmans moved into the front one. Here was an architect who lived in his project (something that a surprising number of architects don’t do).

RBA moved into the 2nd floor of what became the Cannery at Wayne and E. Third- and guided that complex project of marrying 6 different buildings into one huge rental block with retail on the base floor. Unfortunately, due to some HUD requirements- their original concept of having other businesses join them on the second floor got nixed, and they had to move yet again. The stupidity of this change added to the number of parking spaces required at night- compared to keeping spaces revolving between daytime and nighttime uses- the city was of no help. It took the city at least ten years to authorize the “radical” concept of end-in parking in front of this building- something RBA suggested along with many others right from the start. Go Home moved over to the corner- and grew to sell modern furniture- making it an upstairs-downstairs work situation for the Buckman family.

The CooperLofts were another groundbreaking work- starting with an old warehouse building downtown- and building a totally modern addition- with funky siding and odd angle protrusions. The building at the corner of Second and St. Clair is just two blocks away from the little office where RBA began- and also about the same distance from the Cannery. The circle of influence of this small firm is probably more compact than any other architecture firm in town. It’s as if Barry and Mary were on a mission to transform the city- by working in a spiral from their original base camp.

The sculptures and the two service buildings for Riverscape as well as the Fountain towers are their design, as is the uber hip black house on Emmet Street across the river, the Firefly building on Webster at First (where their third and final office is). The Real Art building on First St. across from the ballpark, the inside of Therapy Cafe in the Cannery, the Fairgrounds neighborhood- project “genesis” was theirs- along with one custom house tucked away by Denny’s that is really cool… the list goes on. The mark RBA made will last a long time in Dayton.

One of their most interesting projects is the LiteHouses along Patterson. These “manufactured” homes- as in built in a factory and trucked to the site to be snapped together like Lego blocks, were an innovative game changer in Dayton. LEED certified, you could buy a home that the annual utility bill was lower than your monthly house payment. The plan was to build a lot of these- but, with the financial collapse and appraisers not able to get out of their “comp” mindset- financing became difficult for the kind of people that these were built for. In a particularly shitty move- the city of Dayton decided to hand over one of the future sites to Charles Simms development (along with $300K) to build something generic across the street.

Along the way I got to do the RBA website (which sadly never really ever got updated) and was seemingly always in their circle of influence. We were kindred souls in having a vision for Dayton that didn’t include cookie cutter solutions. The annual invite to watch the fireworks from the roof of the Firefly building was always appreciated- especially since I could rub elbows with many of the people whom I use as content for this blog :-)

But, despite all our efforts to attract and keep the “Creative Class” in Dayton- we’ve failed.

About a month ago, Barry took a job in North Carolina for a large architecture firm, and Audry closed up her final and fourth location of Go Home- which got a paragraph in the Dayton Daily.

Was it the frustration of dealing with a chief building inspector who could find a new way to say no on every single project they did? Or the city handing off lots that could have had a really cool LiteHouse style block on it? Was it the difficulty of challenging the big firms with political clout and connections- who seemed to use RBA as their minor league farm club? Or was it just the desire to move back to NC and be closer to aging parents? Or all of the above?

Either way- they slipped out of town, without a celebration of their accomplishments and contribution to this community- one that probably won’t be understood by very many people- until maybe twenty years from now. We were lucky to have a 16-year run of exceptional talent doing fantastic things in Dayton. To me, they set the bar higher for every architecture firm in the region. One day, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are architecture tours in Dayton of their projects- as models of how a small firm can make a high impact mark on a community.

In my opinion the difference between RBA and Frank Lloyd Wright was the lack of a benefactor to propel them to their well-deserved glory. Maybe not from an architectural design standard- but to one for transforming a community via good design. When local kingmaker Clay Mathile went outside the area to hire architects to do the Aileron building- he overlooked an opportunity to give the home team a chance to really strut their stuff. Just like local restaurants- if we don’t support them, we may only have the choice of chain restaurant food through our choices.

The office is still open- being run by South Park resident Matt Sauer, finishing up projects and even taking on a few new ones. Mary has been only peripherally involved over the last 4 or so years- as she accepted a professorship at Miami University in Oxford.

While most of Dayton probably never knew who was behind all these buildings and projects, I did.

This is my tribute to Barry and his vision. I hereby proclaim today Barry Buckman and RBA day. Giving you a key to the city is inappropriate- since you were the living embodiment to being the key to our city through the last 16 years.

Dayton, you won’t fully realize what you lost until long from now. Just remember, you read it here first.

Woodland Cemetery Wayne Avenue entrance gate

I’ve been the keeper of the keys to the gates to Woodland Cemetery Wyoming Street for about a year.  Now, I have keys to the Waldo Street off Wayne Avenue entrance gate.

If you live along Wayne and would like access to one of Dayton’s best walking tracks, please stop by my office, The Next Wave, 100 Bonner Street, Dayton OH 45410 between 9am and 6pm.

Let’s discuss “Green” housing and renovation

I’m driving up and down Brown Street- trying to imagine it without the Frank Z building. The thought depresses me. Just like I miss the old churches in the Oregon District that are gone, like I miss the terra cotta tiles on the gas station/tire store that was there before the Cooper Lofts- I miss the old Todd Burlesque theater- and even the Art Theater on Wayne. And while the new Litehouses on Patterson certainly look better than the parking lot- I worry about the fate of other buildings- like Canal Street- and the old Etman’s Photo across the street.

Old timers miss Steele High School, and the old library downtown. I remember the massive Rikes- which got replaced by the Schuster- which still makes me feel like I’m inside an ant farm in the “Winter garden.”

We’re on a demolition binge in the city- in a race to tear down houses faster than the arsonist torch them. Of course, City Commissioner Nan Whaley leads the charge (thanks to big donations from a demolition contractor) and being elected as a mere renter. Leave no old house standing, yet, the neighborhoods that are doing the best- are the ones where we’ve made it near impossible to tear things down- the Historic Districts.

Turns out, they may have been on to something- it’s actually possible to do the math that recycling housing can be a lot “greener” than the new ones with all their fancy LEED certifications:

Historic preservationists say renovating an old building is almost always better for the environment than framing up a new one. You don’t add to sprawl by taking up more land. And, you don’t waste all the energy and resources, like wood and metal, already in existing buildings. But people don’t often equate old buildings with “going green.”

via This old house may be the greener one | Marketplace From American Public Media.

Considering the population isn’t growing, it seems the main reason for demolition is to artificially prop up values by decreasing inventory (and to funnel money into donors’ pockets). Yet, the way the market works best is when the values are allowed to drop- and opportunity arises. I bought my 1,800 sq ft Victorian for $14,500 in 1986- as a young lad, because I could afford it- and the upgrades it needed to become a home. This home, my office, and my cottages all could have been demolished had they not had historic zoning protection- and those nutcase people who don’t believe that tearing everything down is the solution.

I look at the “University Place” building at Stewart and Brown- built by Miller Valentine- and dread what they will build to replace the regal Frank Z. I look at the Sonic on Wilmington (and everywhere else around town) and think- we had one at Stewart and Brown- it was called Frish’s and it was the real deal. There will never be another Dominic’s- which was hacked together using three houses and who knows what else- and we use excuses like ADA requirements, and modern building codes to stifle redevelopment- but what are we really doing? Filling landfills with perfectly usable resources. That’s why the deconstruction business is booming- yet, the market for re-use of these materials still hasn’t quite developed.

Is it time to start encouraging reuse of at least the materials for new construction- like we do with paper: “The building contains 30% post construction materials”- or requiring removing x numbers of vacant square footage in order to add y square footage to our community inventory? The Frank Z building’s facade couldn’t be rebuilt for a million dollars- and will just end up in a landfill- why don’t we have incentives to  at least keep it- and for re-using materials from the sprawling back of the building?

Green isn’t always new. Green is what we do with what we have too.