Why Dayton is demolition central

A posting on Facebook showed photos of the old Roosevelt High School. The reactions were strong, wondering why this gem had been torn down- and why Stivers was still standing.

Roosevelt was an amazing building, that brought dignity to West Dayton on a scale like no other:

  • Marble Entrances
  • 400+ Class Rooms
  • Two swimming pools girls/boys
  • Two gymnasiums/ Indoor track
  • Cafeteria Forth Floor
  • Greenhouse Basement
  • 5,000 book Library Printing Dept.
  • Woodworking Rooms
  • Foundry and Forge Rooms
  • Auto  Mechanics Machine Shops Offices
  • Lecture Rooms/ Music Room
  • Telephone  Switchboard
  • Clinic & Pharmacy Dental
  • Optical Rm / Clinic Examination Room Nurses’
  • Doctor’s Office/
  • 1500 Seat Auditorium
  • Heat  for rooms came from tunnels in basement and ducts that carried forced air steam heat up to the rooms.

Source: Roosevelt High School Consruction Plans

The school was home to over 2000 students. If it was still standing today, DPS with an entire population of about 11,000 students, could easily have only 2 high schools standing (Stivers being the other) – and manage the entire population of grades 9-12. That means a lot less overhead, busing issues, sports teams, coaches and the like. My high school for example, was only grades 10-12 (in 1980) and had over 2,500 students in a single building. It was renovated recently to keep the historic character and proud history of the building and it’s alumni. Dayton, tore Roosevelt down, for all the wrong reasons.

Realize that the two pools, the gyms, were also possible as a rec center on the West Side (I used to swim there). That all those craft shops- could have become maker spaces in the community. That the 1500 seat theater could have been an epic movie theater, and the music practice spaces could have been community recording labs. But, we can’t let Black people have nice things- not in Dayton- not when we have to grease the palms of the benefactor of so much political will in Dayton- Steve Rauch Incorporated.

It was Rauch who the feds were trying to catch when they embarked on their investigation they called “Demolished Integrity” – where they set up a dishonorably discharged Army veteran with a horrible reputation in business as the front man for a company named United Demolition Excavating and Site Management. They paid for the office, they paid him as a Confidential Human Source- and tasked him with working his way into the City to catch our politicians taking cash for contracts.

Unfortunately, the FBI so far, has managed to only indict Black people- Joey D. Williams, Roshawn Winburn, Clayton Luckie, Joyce Cameron and her husband, and Brian Higgins. Their attempt at indicting Steve Rauch- ended up in a wrist slap fine. The real culprits, the people who voted on the contract to United Demolition, who awarded Rauch contracts to tear down all kinds of other buildings- some needlessly, like the Schwind and the old Dayton Daily News building on Ludlow, or the old Ecki building at Wayne and Wyoming, all have walked free.

The city is all excited about more money for demolition coming through federal American Rescue Plan Act funding:

The final rule says eligible projects include improvements to vacant and abandoned properties through demolition, rehab, remediation of environmental issues and other investments.

The final rule also says funds can be used to help small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic with loans, grants, technical assistance, counseling or other services.

Dayton has proposed spending about $15.8 million of its rescue funds to demolish about 850 housing units and $18.7 million on repairing, rehabbing and constructing new housing.

The city also plans to put $7 million toward a fund for loans for first-floor businesses in its business districts, and it also expects to offer $3.1 million to Black- and brownowned businesses for capital investments.

Source: Rules for rescue funds allow for demolitions – Dayton Daily News

The thing is, the spending of the funds for demolition won’t be to minority businesses, or small businesses, and they will be creating more problems for the community than helping.

I hate to proselytize, but the idea that you can demolish your way to prosperity has no foundation in fact or even fiction. The only people getting better by tearing down all these homes and buildings is the landfill owners and the demolition companies. Your neighborhood will be scarred for life.

There is a better way

The most successful neighborhoods in Dayton have been the historic districts that surround downtown. There’s a good reason for it- it’s incredibly difficult to tear anything down. There was a home on my block that had a bad fire- in the late 80’s. As values increased in the neighborhood- it became financially feasible for investors to rebuild it. It now is valued at over $175K despite the slipshod work done- where the investor had originally tried to bring it back as an illegal double- and failed.

Another tiny house around the corner- burned at the same time. I’d tried to buy it before an investor put it back together. How they got any permits or inspections approved is an absolute mystery- nothing in the house was to code- yet, when I did renovations of the two shotgun cottages across the street- even my insulation installation was questioned (I’d ripped them down to the studs before a total interior rebuild). The whole different standards for different folks is a very big problem in our community of pay to play. Those shotgun cottages, where I overpaid $19,500 each, are now worth over $140K and bringing in about $25k a year each as AirBnB’s. The first 25 years of ownership- I rented them for $600 a month each- and always had them filled. I recently put new standing seam metal roofs on both of them, which cost more, but will never end up in a landfill.

So- those options for the targets of demolition? My friend and former client- James Kent had a company that would deconstruct the old homes by hand, salvaging many of the old materials for resale, and to keep them out of landfills was a brilliant idea. What’s even better, he only hired x-cons and gave them a chance in society. Unfortunately, Nan Whaley preferred to give contracts to those that paid her- and she shut them out of a $250K contract. Restarting this program would be an incredible asset and have long term economic value to our community. The criteria for homes to deconstruct is that they are truly beyond possible repair- as in too much structural damage, inability to seal them back up to the elements in a way that can make them look acceptable for rehab.

The other part of this program that needs to be put in place is a requirement for banks to be held liable on foreclosed properties- to keep or maintain them in the state they were in when they foreclose. They must keep the homes secured- so plumbing and electrical systems don’t get stolen. Gutters and roofs must be kept in good repair, windows can’t be broken, stink trees can’t be allowed to grow next to the foundation. If they banks can’t manage these things- they must make the properties available to a city run non-profit housing organization that will manage them, keeping all the maintenance up to date and the homes occupied.

For homes already abandoned, owners, absentee or local, will be charged if they fail to keep the homes presentable and sound. This isn’t a problem in Oakwood or Kettering- only in Dayton. It’s as if we want to make taxpayers pay for others mistakes with huge demolition costs. And, those demolition costs must be charged back to the owners.

There is a huge need for skilled trades in our community- as well as affordable housing. The tornadoes of 2019 took out a lot of affordable housing stock. There is no reason to tear down when we could be using these homes as labs for the next generation of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC, drywall installers, flooring and tile installers, interior designers, architects and even landscape designers and landscapers. Instead of hiring bulldozer operators to demolish – let’s hire x-cons, the under-employed, the students to rebuild our community- and even give away homes to those who participate- with the conditions that they maintain them, pay income taxes, don’t get arrested for crimes. Empty lots don’t pay taxes, empty lots don’t create community.

We’ve torn down more value in Dayton than we’ve created for the last 50 years. Demolition isn’t economic development- it’s demolition. Even “economic development” in this city is misnamed, it’s really tax shifting from the poor to the wealthy, from the public to the private, from the people to the political classes friends and family. We need a true equal opportunity economic development plan.

It’s time to stop demolishing and start rebuilding. It’s not just housing- it’s our community, our social capital, our pride. Any politician who keeps talking about demolition- isn’t a politician we should be listening to- they are working for the demolition king, not you or me.


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