Dayton Land Bank: what’s the exit strategy?

Back in the early nineties, the City was in possession of thousands of real estate parcels. A client of mine asked for a list, and was given a stack of pin-feed greenbar paper about 3″ thick.

All that real estate wasn’t generating property taxes, and it’s about to get worse with the city’s new plan to “landbank” property according to today’s paper

Dayton plans to acquire 1,000 properties this year

By Joanne Huist Smith Staff Writer Sunday, May 11, 2008

DAYTON — The city of Dayton plans to aggressively snatch up properties for land banking, with a goal of acquiring up to 1,000 properties this year.

The eventual goal: reduce the supply of excess housing in the city, identify potential areas for new development while creating parks, neighborhood squares even nature preserves.

For Dayton City Commissioner Nan Whaley, its a tool to improve quality of life here.

“I look at land banking as the city controlling its destiny,” she said. “We need to talk about where we are going. We have wonderful opportunities.”

Targeted properties have been abandoned by owners, who do not pay their property taxes. In many cases, the city has had to board up the structures and mow.

“Were already maintaining these properties,” Whaley said. “We might as well control them.”

The city currently has more than 10,000 vacant housing units in more than 3,800 structures. It would cost an estimated $6 million for the city to demolish its current 800 nuisance structures and an additional $25 million to bring down the entire inventory of vacant structures.

“We cant sit around and do nothing,” Whaley said. “I think, for all neighborhoods, this is a win.”

Typically, Dayton has only used land banking to acquire properties for specific developments or as part of the citys Adopt-a-Lot program, which enables homeowners to buy land next to theirs.

That practice has now changed.

“Were really talking about being aggressive in acquiring vacant properties,” Deputy City Manager Stan Early said, in a presentation to the City Commission on Wednesday, May 7.

On April 17, the city bought 125 state, forfeited properties for land banking at a total cost of $4,000. Most of the properties were bought for $25 each, said Whaley, adding that the lots are scattered around the city.

A quasi-government authority, composed of city staff and volunteers, would hold the properties, but input from the citizens of Dayton would determine future reuse. There is no time frame set to establish this authority, but Whaley said she expects it to happen quickly.

The city plans to put the properties in the Real Estate Acquisition Program, enabling Dayton to hold on to them up to 15 years, tax free. To qualify for REAP under Ohio Revised Code, property taxes must be certified by the county as being at least two years delinquent, said Aaron Sorrell, Daytons manager of housing and neighborhood development.

Thirty properties went through REAP in 2007 and an additional 150 to date this year. Those numbers represent just the tip of the citys overall plan.

For now, the city is merely acquiring the properties. The second step, according to Whaley, is creating a vision for what the city will look like in the future.

“The city in front of us is probably going to look different from the city behind us,” John Gower, the citys director of planning and community development said. “We can take the best in the community and move those forward with us.”

While “vacant” homes may be an eyesore or a contributing factor to devaluating neighborhoods- the problem is that without a plan, just buying them up, and then tearing them down, doesn’t solve the big problem: why don’t people want to live here anymore?

Loss of fundamental services, perceived safety, quality of schools, confidence that the home will retain it’s value- those are the reasons properties aren’t valued anymore- and what needs to be addressed.

There are very few “Bad Buildings”- there are bad locations. If we could uproot the homes from Dayton View and put them in Oakwood- they’d be worth millions. That’s the problem- not the homes themselves, and tearing them down isn’t the answer.

Finding ways to consolidate our shrinking population into healthy neighborhoods might be a better plan- finding alternative uses for large areas of declining value real estate. Could we be raising corn and cattle on the West Side? Sure, but, it would require a real plan to transition people from “war zone” areas to stable ones. That’s a real plan, not just picking up the pieces willy-nilly like the city is proposing to do now.

What are your ideas? How do we find ways to either repopulate or consolidate so that we maximize the value of our urban real estate?

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