Only the little people get burned in Dayton Ohio

I’ve often said the worst thing that can happen to a property owner in Dayton is when your next door neighbors home is foreclosed on. Next thing you know, the copper wire, the copper plumbing, the furnace, the A/C, is all pulled out by scrappers and the cost to replace it it way more than the scrap value.

The second worst, if it doesn’t burn your house too, is having your neighbors home catch on fire. The hulking relic can stick around for years.

Unless of course, your a school board member and a friend of Mayor Nan Whaley.

The house next door to new School Board member Karen Wick Gagnet burned down on April 22nd 2018.

A few days later, demolition crews were knocking the walls down and making it a mound of rubble.

And, by June 22nd- it was being excavated and backfilled.

That doesn’t happen for the average taxpayer. There’s a house on Salem that burned so long ago- it’s covered in ivy.

That’s why we did a little video- “Burning Questions” which asks why there isn’t a standard protocol city wide for what has to happen when a building burns, complete with deadlines, bonding, and even a public auction if an owner can’t promise to take care of it.

It’s time that everyone gets the same treatment in Dayton. Not just the elected folks.

What should happen?

Within the first 30 days, a property owner has to fill out a plan complete with how they’ll pay, to either demo the property or begin repairs.

If that doesn’t happen, an instant auction will take place, with bidders able to take the property, as long as they can file a plan and have a bond for enough to cover the project.

If no bids come in, the building is demolished, the owner charged for the demolition, and the real estate is instantly put up for sale.

There is no reason for these hulking piles of trash should be allowed to stand.

The demolition derby in Dayton needs to end

There was nothing wrong with Schwind building, nor the old Dayton Daily News building on Ludlow. Both were solid buildings in good locations, and prime candidates for adaptive reuse.

But, apparently the right local developers didn’t pay off the right people, because money that could have made their projects an easy go- was spent instead with long-time Dem Party supporter Steve Rauch.

What’s most interesting is that this was after he “mistakenly” tore down the historic addition to the original Cox building.

The city of Dayton will spend $215,000 more than it had originally planned to pay for the demolition and cleanup of the Schwind Building property, which officials said will help the roughly $18 million student housing project move forward.

A federal deed restriction on the Schwind property along Ludlow Street meant the Student Suites developer was unable to secure financing that would have covered the demolition and cleanup costs, said Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development.

The city is increasing its contribution to $1,215,000 from an original commitment of $1 million to fulfill its promise of fixing issues on the Schwind property, officials said.

“The reason we pushed this forward is because there was a shared sense of responsibility,” Sorrell said. “Our agreement with Student Suites is we’d deliver the Schwind property free of any liens and encumbrances: We have not been able to do that because of the deed restriction.”…
Sorrell admits that footing the bill for the remainder of the Schwind cleanup means the city will not be able to remove as many blighted and abandoned homes as it could have otherwise. But the additional expense will help a project progress that will provide a boost to the revitalization of downtown, he said.
via Dayton to pay for Schwind cleanup.

I’ve been watching a house at 828 Frizell, near DeSoto Bass to see how long the city would take to demolish it. Unlike the Schwind, it needed to come down, although it was making a damn good effort to self-destruct without any help.

The first picture was taken April 10 at 7:27 pm. The neighbors told me that they heard a massive boom- as the house slid off its foundation, and the chimney toppled onto the home next door. The city put some cones out.

photo of 828 Frizell, which slid off it's foundation

House at 828 Frizell on April 10, off the foundation

May 8, I went by again, expecting to see it demolished. Nope. 8:48 pm

Photo of 828 Frizell Ave

May 8, 2014, 828 Frizell is still leaning left.

Last night, after hanging nets, I drove by, it was after 9:30 and dark- the house was a pile of rubble. I didn’t see anyone out to ask when it came down, but was glad to see the city had finally addressed this serious public safety hazard.

The differences between 828 Frizell which needed to come down, and the Schwind which didn’t are night and day. But, the result is the same- public money being spent to tear our city down, instead of to make our city a great place to live.

I’ve already said that at the rate houses are being blighted and torn down, we will expend a hundred million and never keep up. We’ll always be the dog chasing the tail, instead of moving forward. Had we handed half the money we wasted on tearing down the Schwind to developer Bill Rain, he would have had student housing and low income housing in the Schwind to conform with the deed restrictions. Had they handed him the old DDN building- he would have had ground level retail and parking on floors 2 and 3. I’m pretty sure local developer Bob Schiffler would have done something similar.

But the housing stock demolition process is a whole other story.

Some houses like 828 Frizell were absolute demolition cases- many others are in the process of following in the footsteps. The process starts when a bank forecloses on a property that isn’t worth anywhere near what they lent on it- or, the tax bill is exceeding the value the home can be sold for.

Why the declining value? The wizards of Wall Street contributed a great deal to the demise of home values with their derivatives markets and loan bundling. But the City of Dayton has done much of the damage to its own property values over a long period of time. School busing to “solve” segregation was the first strike, where the city lost 100,000 people in a short time. Adjusting for those losses compounded the city’s problem- instead of adjusting to a smaller population, they asked for and got a higher income tax- to be charged to the people who couldn’t vote for the tax. Businesses began their exodus, first to the Kettering Research Park, and then to Austin Landing. Both tax-supported projects that made money for developers- and political donors- and hurt tax collection even more.

The one at Austin Landing is particularly odd- white collar workers don’t get taxed, while blue collar workers do. They just voted to make the district bigger last week;

Three south suburban communities now have more land from which to draw income tax revenue after they approved expanding a zone covered by an agreement.

About 11 acres will be added to the Austin Landing property from which Miamisburg, Miami Twp. and Springboro split income tax revenue.

Legislative leaders from those three jurisdictions Thursday night approved an amendment to increase the Austin Center Joint Economic Development District.

A JEDD is a partnership granted certain oversight authorities, including levying taxes, under the Ohio Revised Code….

The Austin Center JEDD levies a 2.25 percent income tax on all retail businesses and some offices (emphasis added) within its boundaries, according to Miami Twp. records. That percentage is consistent with Miamisburg’s income tax rate. Springboro’s
via 3 jurisdictions vote to expand Austin tax zone.

The city, already plagued with a remaining low income population, which results in lower test scores for students in the beleaguered school system, then began to cut services to families, closing rec centers, not taking care of parks, and cutting basic maintenance like street paving, grass cutting in public spaces, even housing inspection. The great “Model Cities” inspired “Priority Board” system was eviscerated, leaving  a skeleton on life support.

In a series of desperate for tax revenue moves, the city worked against existing businesses, picking favorites and subsidizing some businesses while ignoring others. Attempts to “improve” things like their efforts to be real estate developers for the Wayne Avenue Kroger- took millions of dollars- with the city actually “blighting” the neighborhood into failure with a series of options on the “doomed” properties. When Kroger pulled out, no one was fired, or even questioned, on how they could go this far without a contract.

Other cities tried to chase down blight and demolish, only to realize that it was like going down the rabbit hole. Philadelphia finally said enough- instead of allowing property owners the easy route of boarding up shit properties, went after owners demanding that they fix up or hand over.

From the LA Times:

McCall staples a poster to the plywood covering the door. The poster declares the building “a blighting influence,” in violation of a city code that requires all buildings to have working doors and windows. Plywood or other boards are prohibited, and the fine is $300 per opening — per day.

After decades of ignoring the blight that has spread through its neighborhoods, Philadelphia is trying to reclaim its vacant homes through aggressive initiatives designed to compel negligent owners to fix their properties or see them seized and torn down.

via City of Brotherly Love finally tackles neighborhood blight – Los Angeles Times.

McCall is a city employee- and the city realized that boarding up a house actually hurts the value of all the other homes on the block. So do the stickers saying a “house has been winterized” – meaning that water won’t freeze and break pipes- but is also a printed invitation to scrappers to come steal anything and everything inside.

Accountability for ones investments is long overdue in Dayton. From slumlords like Jan Singleton, who has managed not to pay taxes- or take care of his properties for years, confounding the city law department and inspectors- to the city itself, which has no problem charging you $250 to cut your lot- while they have foot high grass on our boulevards.

Before and after photo as city cuts grass in public boulevard

How high was the grass on Burns Ave. before the city cut it? Ticketable for sure.

How can a city have any legitimate authority to tell people to cut grass when they can’t do it themselves? Yet, they can pump a million and a quarter into the developers’ and demolition companies’ hands for the Student Suites project on Ludlow.

Back to the Philly Story:

Neighborhoods where the new strategies have been applied have seen home prices rise 31% over four years,compared with a 1% rise in comparable areas, according to a study by Ira Goldstein of the Reinvestment Fund. The initiatives increased home values by $74 million throughout Philadelphia, Goldstein said, and brought in $2.2 million more in transfer tax receipts.

Philadelphia had been spending millions of dollars a year to tear down vacant properties, and it didn’t seem to be making much headway, said Rebecca Swanson, who directs the city’s vacant building strategy. So in 2011, city officials decided to try a strategy they hoped would prevent properties from becoming run down in the first place.

The city utilized software used by the IRS to track down owners of the vacant buildings. Then the city took the owners to a newly created Blight Court. The door and window ordinance also allows the city to attach liens to property owners’ other personal property, including, in some cases, mansions in the suburbs.

“That was the whole point, to catch them early, cite them for doors and windows, and hopefully that incentivizes the owner to come out of the woodwork and do something,” Swanson said.

Where is the accountability for the money squandered on Tech Town- where tenants pay no rent, driving rents down on other buildings where landlords have to pay the same taxes they always have had to? Ask Dayton Hydraulic and Jerv Janney how he feels about city subsidies of the Water Street project- while his buildings already have to compete with Tech Town? He’s suing the city for a bunch of money– because he’s been backed into a corner.

This is a city that just bulldozed every public outdoor swimming pool. Has committed to spend a million dollars on fixing up basketball courts after a political opponent embarrassed them by hanging 300+ nets on courts that weren’t being serviced (btw- I’ve yet to see a new rim, new pavement, or backboard).

It’s time to stop thinking demolition is the answer. Blight will stop when there is a legitimate reason to live in this city. Saying we’re a leader in demolishing things ain’t it.

The death of a good idea

Full disclosure: my firm, The Next Wave, has worked with James Kent over the last 10 years, both with Kent Development and then with the Architectural Reuse Company. They are a South Park neighborhood-based business.

The idea was noble. The company was green, compassionate, and the service was needed. There is no lack of work. But, today, James told me that the Architectural Reuse Company had closed its doors. He had laid off his entire staff earlier in the week. His failure? He trusted the City of Dayton to do the right thing.

There is a 29 year backlog of houses to demolish in the City of Dayton alone. Estimates of cost run as high as $60 million, and that’s not counting the houses that keep getting added to the nuisance list. We have homes to tear down, and that’s the business ARC was in, only they did things a little differently.

First, they hired ex-offenders, people who were as old as 40 and had never had a paycheck their entire life. It wasn’t just hiring and teaching them how to demolish houses, it was teaching these disadvantaged people how to work within society. How to set up a bank account, a budget, show up for work on time, the works.

Second, they were deconstructing homes, instead of running them over with a bulldozer. First they gleaned the woodwork, fixtures, windows, etc., and moved them to a warehouse to sell. Then they dismantled the home- and kept as much as 80% of the material out of the landfill. They were working on a plan to get closer to 95% by joining in with some of my other clients to do a roofing material recycling plant.

The business model was a “social enterprise.” Not a non-profit, but a company whose driving force was to do good.

However, when you’re hiring ex-cons, the ability to get bonded for big contracts had its limits. It also costs more to tear a house down by hand, but, with the reclamation of both the materials and the workers, the equation makes sense. The state spends a lot of money putting people behind bars, and very little keeping them out of prison. Filling landfills isn’t good either, and so, if the cost is even a little higher to use ARC, it still pays back. But, that was the thing- it didn’t cost more. And the contracts didn’t come their way.

Last Wednesday the City Commission granted a demolition contract to a Bellbrook-based construction company, Dyer Contracting. The contract was for another $250,000. From the agenda:

Dyer Contracting- Change Order No. 3 (CTll-0224)- for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program Nuisance Abatement Residential- 201 1 Emergency Demolitions Rebid ( 1 0% MBE Goal/Participation) (Federal NSP2 Funds) – Dept. of Building Services/Housing Inspection. $250,000.00

From the supporting documents:

The Division of Housing Inspection proposes Change Order No. 3 for $250,000 to the existing contract with Dyer Contracting titled 2011 Neighborhood Stabilization Program Nuisance Abatement Residential- 2011 Emergency Demolitions Rebid project. The Change Order is requested for the demolition, removal and disposal of 33 additional residential structures or equivalent volume selected by the city, under the rules, regulations and guidelines of the contract.
The $250,000 Change Order is funded from the Moving Ohio Forward Demolition Program grant and the
General Capital grant match allocation. The original contract for $106,441.44 was approved on October 5,
2011, and signed on December 2, 2011. Change Order No. 1, approved on May 30, 2012, increased the total
contract to $184,741.44. Change Order No. 2, approved on October 3, 2012, increased the total contract to
$684,741.44 and amended the city’s participation goal from 10% MBE to include a 10% HUD Section 3
participation goal. This Change Order will increase the total expenditure authority to $934,741.44. The
amended participation goal is not affected by this Change Order.

This began as a $106K contract on 29 Nov 13, then there was change order 1 for $78,300, then  change order 2 for $500,000 and now Change order 3 for $250K, for a total of  $934,741.44.

The commission was not shown any documentation as to performance or compliance with the 10% MBE goals. Nor, was there a question how a contract keeps growing without rebid. Looking at Dyer Contracting’s site, they don’t even list demolition as a skill, and there is no mention of MBE participation.

Considering that 4 years ago, Rhine McLin received a campaign donation of $10K from a landfill owner named Kitt Cooper and Nan Whaley got $5K from the same, and he was located in Westerville Ohio, one wonders if contractors are picked by which landfill they use? Since ARC doesn’t put much into the landfill, maybe it’s why they don’t get the work? And how does a contract continue to grow, without being rebid? Get in early with a low bid- with a promise of more to come?

Something smells bad about this deal, and it’s not coming from ARC.

Tearing down is not building up Dayton.

My office would have been torn down.
So would 412 Hickory, which now houses an architect’s very cool office.

Had we demolished these “nuisance structures” there would be fewer jobs in the city. I’m not looking forward to the day when they tear down the Ecki building at Wayne and Wyoming- I’d rather see it boarded nicely- than another grass field.

On a recent drive to a work project, I drove through Madison, Indiana. Its downtown was still virtually intact from pre-1950. It had a quality that our downtown will never have- and on a Thursday at 2 p.m., it had people and retail all over.

Tearing things down does not build a city up.

The current rush to tear down buildings is a band-aid on the bullet wounds we’ve allowed to fester for years. Yes, a lot of these homes are past fixing up, but that’s because the values nearby have fallen so much. Thankfully, in South Park the historic ordinances stopped a lot of the demo, and kept the shells alive. That can’t be said for the rest of the city.

There is also big money in demolition. Maybe it’s why Rhine and Nan have $15,500 in their campaign funds from a demolition company. Doesn’t make it right.

There are some things we could do to soften the impact. A local company, Kent Development has started a new business- Architectural Reclamation Company. They salvage lumber, trim, floors, fixtures anything that can be used again. We could grow a business model from this- and eliminate so much going to a landfill- if we had leaders with more vision.

Today’s DDN article ends with a zinger:

The city of Dayton demolished 300 structures in 2008, and an additional 110 so far this year. Now, using $900,000 in Federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds and just more than $211,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding, the Dayton City Commission has awarded five contracts for both commercial and residential demolition.

The contracts included: $615,400 to Dayton-based, Steve R. Rauch, Inc.; two contracts totalling $286,500 to Cincinnati-based, A.R. Environmental, Inc.; and two worth a total of $211,100 to Dayton-based, Bladecutters, Inc….

Overall, there are about 3,000 vacant structures in Dayton. Of those 1,000 are on the nuisance list. Since 2000, the number of vacant structures in Dayton has been reduced by about 1,000…

The former Rockwell’s restaurant on Emmet Street may also come down this year, he added.

via 400 ‘nuisance’ buildings slated for demolition by end of year.

Rockwell’s, the former Blue Dog Cafe, previously known as 4 Riverplace- has been rebuilt and retrofitted at least 3 times in the last 20 years. Yet, it too, is facing the wrecking ball.

How much do we remove before there isn’t enough left to call ourselves a city?

And how far would the millions for demolitions go- if we instead worked on stabilizing and holding some of these- if we used the cannibalized materials plus prison labor (not necessarily to work in the fields- but to clean and prep salvaged material for reuse)?

With each demolition, we also lose taxable real estate. Even if the owners are taxed at the lot rate, keeping the structure up, we may end up ahead in the long run if we can one day be rediscovered by people from Manhattan as global warming raises water levels and turns NYC into the new Venice :)

If we had a growing population, these properties would have hope. As we tear them down, we’re tearing down our future as well as our past.

Your thoughts?