The post tornado housing crisis isn’t a new crisis. Revisiting low cost housing options in Dayton

A few months ago, a community activist put an amazing house in Dayton View up for sale- for free. You just had to have the wherewithal to rehab it and live in it. There are a bunch of really grand homes in that area- including one at Broadway and Yale that has been saved and lost a few times- including a round as a “Designer Show Case” home.

When you are giving away historically significant mansions for lack of $200K to rehab- there is something seriously wrong- considering a home like that in any successful city would be worth a million.

But- that’s the high end of the disastrous housing situation in Dayton. The low end is the one that’s being taxed right now- as the memorial day tornado tore through low-income housing and displaced a lot of people who were just getting by. Kelly Avenue had a whole street of row-house apartments get destroyed by the EF-4 twister- and now the city has condemned them– without realizing that there aren’t places for them to move into. Rents of $300-$500 a month are hard to find- and even if they could, where is the deposit and the first months rent going to come from? Most didn’t have renters insurance. The only thing left standing intact? The gang mailbox. The rest of the street- destroyed.

The mail would still come to Kelly Avenue- even if there wasn’t anything left.

Dayton has systemically eliminated affordable housing and pushed poor people into public housing – which we’ve also been reducing. My neighborhood housing project, Cliborne Manor, was leveled a few years ago- despite being some of the newest construction in South Park (a rehabarama in the late nineties built a few infill homes). Is it a war on poor people? Is it a systemic attack on people without a voice? Do we have a real plan to provide affordable housing- and to move people out of poverty or homelessness?

For an answer, I look over to the neighborhood directly East of my neighborhood- Twin Towers. There, East End Community Services has been battling to create a community that can help people lift themselves out of poverty- through a whole set of “wrap-around services” and subsidized housing. They have brand new 4 bedroom homes that you can rent to own- in 15 years, and they are still having a hard time keeping the homes full thanks to all kinds of restrictions on income.

The problem is that not everyone needs a whole house. With a house come maintenance costs, utility costs, insurance costs and then the furnishings. What people need is affordable housing options that provide for mobility- both economic and physical. After World War II, American faced a huge influx of soldiers returning who needed housing- and we met the challenge through SRO housing- a type of housing that is mostly illegal in Dayton- unless you are a rich UD student and paying the university.

SRO stands for single room occupancy- and after the war, this was a common practice. A furnished room would rent by the week. It had everything you needed to live- a bed, a chair, linens that were changed once a week, a closet and maybe a sink and a hot plate. Some would be luxurious and have their own toilet too, but the shower was usually a shared space at the end of the hall. There may also be a shared kitchen available. Now, we insist that more than 3 un-related people can’t cohabit in the same building. We have rules about how big houses and lots must be, and we have entire areas “zoned” as “single family residences” which are not the most efficient ways to house people.

The exception is the University of Dayton- which has tall apartment buildings, multiple unit apartments and a whole bunch of homes that are SRO. Yep- the rich non-profit institution gets an exemption.

With SRO housing- rented by the week, only requires a deposit of a weeks rent and a weeks deposit, well under the costs required and credit checks and leases with a single family home. The landlord has responsibility for water, DP&L and Vectren. Coupled with public transit- and what’s required to meet a “living wage” falls to Walmart wages. For an America where the average person doesn’t have access to $1000, the cost of housing drops from unobtainable to accessible.

Dayton has a slew of vacant homes that aren’t accessible due to scrapping, title problems caused by the great mortgage debacle of 2009, and bad comps that preclude conventional lending from taking place. No politician has suggested anything other than tearing them down- or placing them in a “land bank” where somehow magically- they are supposed to gain value. What we need to do is figure out a way to bring them back online- and to make them profitable. Without causing gentrification.

That last part is the sticky part. Currently, the process of revaluing homes tax burden based on what your neighbors property sells for is counterproductive. Fixing up your home means it’s going to cost you more- and if your neighbor fixes up his home- it’s going to cost you too. This has to stop- at least in areas that are hard hit by the mortgage debacle. We need to incentivize investment, by guaranteeing that the price you buy your home for is the value for the length of time that you own it. Any investment that you make- is yours to enjoy, right up to the time that you sell it, to someone that knows what they are buying into. Your neighbors wealth shouldn’t affect your ability to own a home.

By the same standard- we need to take a new approach to code-enforcement. We need to work collaboratively instead of being an adversary. The primary issues to work on- the envelope- roofs, windows, doors, gutters- all of which are critical to maintaining the basic bones of a house. If you can’t afford to do the work to keep the building structurally intact, we’d have to work on a plan to offer a low-interest loan to stabilize the property that would be attached to the deed. Social service agencies would collaborate to ascertain what can be done to help you to keep your home. The caveat being, the yard has to be maintained, and trash can’t can’t accumulate on the property. We can offer payments to work off the debt- by taking care of neighboring lots by cutting grass etc.

The goal in vacant neighborhoods isn’t to tear them down, it’s to build them up.

The current administration in Dayton is very proud of itself for all the new higher density construction downtown- starting with Water Street, then the Delco Lofts, the Sims developments and now the new Centerfield flats next to the ballpark. While these are all great, they aren’t creating either affordable housing for the least fortunate, or value for the neighborhoods. In fact, the tax dollars of the poorest in Dayton have helped subsidize these projects and ones like The Troll Pub. This has to stop. It’s time for what I call equal opportunity development, where every deal that’s being done with tax dollars has proven that it’s not a pay to play, limited opportunity for a single developer. In other words- investment is only available when it’s the same terms to everyone. No exceptions.

And, the development dollars have to be calibrated to the area based on poverty levels. Lowest risk, highest poverty gets more opportunity than the inverse. This is when your neighbors values should be taken into consideration- when it’s public subsidies for the greater good.

Minneapolis realized they had a problem and did something about it. Read this long excerpt from a recent article in the NY Times:

The United States is suffering from an acute shortage of affordable places to live, particularly in the urban areas where economic opportunity increasingly is concentrated. And perhaps the most important reason is that local governments are preventing construction….

The number of housing units completed in the United States last year, adjusted for the size of the population, was lower than in any year between 1968 and 2008.

Housing prices, and homelessness, are rising across the country because there is not enough housing.

That’s why a recent breakthrough in Minneapolis is so important. The city’s political leaders have constructed a broad consensus in favor of more housing. And the centerpiece is both simple and brilliant: Minneapolis is ending single-family zoning.

Local governments regulate land use by chopping cities into zones, specifying what can be built in each area. This serves some valuable purposes, like separating homes from heavy industry. But mostly, it serves to protect homeowners. In many cities, including Minneapolis, more than half of the city’s land is reserved for single-family homes.

In December, the Minneapolis City Council voted 12 to 1 to allow construction of at least three residential units per lot throughout the city as part of a larger package of changes intended to increase housing construction. Under the plan, most construction still will be concentrated in the center of the city and along transit corridors. But the elimination of single-family zoning was crucial in building political support for the plan, ending a system under which more than 60 percent of Minneapolis was sheltered from change.

The affordable housing crisis cannot be solved by new construction alone, at least not in the short term. Governments need to provide subsidized housing for people who cannot afford market-rate housing.

No Copper No Wires- fourplex on Siebenthaler Ave 2012. Photo David Esrati. This could be affordable housing again.

Other regions are considering the Minneapolis approach, but proponents have run into stiff political opposition. In California, legislators from wealthy, low-density cities blocked a plan to increase construction that would have allowed “fourplexes,” or four-unit apartments, throughout the state.

Race also played a central role. Minneapolis is among the most segregated and unequal cities in America, a fact at odds with its self-image as a tolerant and diverse community. The gap between white and black homeownership is the widest in any of the 100 cities with the largest black populations: 75 percent of whites own their homes, compared with just 25 percent of blacks.

In the ensuing debates, many residents said they were surprised to learn that single-family zoning in Minneapolis, as in other cities, had deep roots in efforts to enforce racial segregation. Cities found that banning apartment construction in white neighborhoods was an effective proxy for racial discrimination, and the practice spread after it was validated by the Supreme Court in 1926.

In Minneapolis, the current political leaders argued that ending single-family zoning was a necessary step to rectify that history of racial discrimination. On many city lawns, signs that read “Neighbors for More Neighbors” stood alongside signs that read “Black Lives Matter.”

Source: Opinion | Americans Need More Neighbors – The New York Times

Realize that while we may have slightly higher home ownership rates for Dayton’s African Americans, I’m pretty sure if we compare values, vs just population, whites own the wealth, blacks own the liabilities- homes that decreased in value over the period of ownership.

While there are people in the community giddy about the recent announcement of $10M more coming into the “West Dayton Development Fund” one only has to look at what didn’t happen with the first $50M that vanished. Here’s a post from this site from 2011 talking about its failings.

We need a bold new vision on how to jumpstart investment into West Dayton and into affordable housing stock. We need to figure out new ways to efficiently deliver services to a sprawling city, where population densities are grossly unbalanced. And most of all, we need to figure out how to make it safe for investors to invest in Dayton and know that their investment will pay back. For that, we need people with new ideas- who aren’t looking first on how to line their pockets or fill their campaign coffers.

I know that I’ve got ideas- and that Shenise Turner-Sloss is more likely to work with me to make things happen than Chris Shaw or Matt Joseph.

If you need proof of my commitment and understanding of what it takes to build value in our community- just remember that when I bought my home in South Park I paid $14,500, my office, $2,400, and each of my cottages- $19,500 each. Now everyone of them is worth a lot more. I’m not just talking for the sake of talking- I’ve actually been a part of the South Park Renaissance and have a wealth of knowledge to share.



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