In today’s Dayton Daily news, the front page story talks about the tanking property values in Montgomery County- and then gushes over South Park- a “gainer” among the rest of the failing county.
To begin with, you have to realize that when your property is already way undervalued due to the failures of our local governments (yes plural- since we have way too many) over the last 40 years, we’ve allowed sprawl and “economic development” to run our community. Both of which have caused the costs of basic government services to grow faster than the tax base.
Our “median assessed value” is still almost half of what the rest of the county is. Take that into consideration, as well as our neighborhood of 850 odd houses, is a very small sample of the whole. So when you read everything in the DDn article about why our neighborhood’s appraised values went up- remember, it’s a tiny increase in the grand scheme of things- where you still have a sinking ship deeply in need of triage.
Soaring South Park
It was exactly that kind of effort — over many years — that has contributed to rising values in the South Park and other historic districts.
Together, the 1,875 residential properties in the 10 historic districts as defined by the county saw 14.4 percent increase in total assessed value. Only the Oregon District, which lost 9.3 percent, and McPherson Town, which declined by less than 1 percent, saw decreasing values.
The South Park Historic District was the county’s biggest gainer. The median assessed value for the 646 residential properties in the district increased by 32.1 percent during the three years, rising from $66,905 in 2011 to $88,410.
In South Park, the county’s largest historic district, only 35 residential properties — or about 1 in 18 — lost value, according to the newspaper’s analysis.
Brian Ressler, president of Historic South Park, Inc., the district’s non-profit neighborhood association, attributed much of the neighborhood’s resurgence to two businesses that have dedicated themselves to buying and rehabilitating homes there — Full Circle Development (Gasper) and The Home Group Realty Co.
“They have contributed a lot to basically creating a market where there wasn’t one before,” Ressler said of the two businesses. “They’ve been able to increase demand for housing in the neighborhood in a way that couldn’t have occurred before because they’ve been able to do so much at once.”
A number of other folks have also pitched in to rehabilitate homes in the neighborhood – many of which date to the late 1800s.
Holly DiFlora, owner of The Home Group, said she and her husband Michael, who grew up in Old North Dayton, began buying blighted South Park properties in 2006 after retiring and moving back to the area.
“We’ve done 35 houses in the neighborhood,” DiFlora said of the rehabs. “We knew we had to do critical mass in order to really jump start the neighborhood. And we have.”
Longtime residents Pat and Susan Moran won’t argue about the progress, but like many property owners with increased appraisals they’re ambivalent.
Their two-story home on Bonner Street, built in 1890, increased almost 19 percent, from $101,300 to $120,230.
So, were the Morans happy with their new assessment?
“Yes and no,” Pat said with a grin. “If we were going to sell it, sure.”
But it also means they’ll pay more in property taxes.
“I think it’s good for the neighborhood,” said Susan, “but it’s not good for the individuals.”
Asking Brian Ressler, a relative newcomer to the neighborhood on what caused the increase is like asking a first-year med student to be “Dr. House” who solves the toughest medical problems- all within 50 minutes every week.
South Park is a success, not because of the investment of the DiFloras and the Gaspers- although they definitely helped. It’s a combination of things that are fundamentally different from what other neighborhoods in Dayton are doing (the smaller historic districts- Oregon and McPherson Town both dropped in value- again, very small sample sizes make the numbers meaningless).
So, if you want to know what really caused the values to go up, you need to do some quick comparisons. The City of Dayton made a concerted effort to “bring back Wright Dunbar”- investing many millions into redevelopment. More than DiFlora and Gasper ever dreamed of spending. At one point, the city spent a million to redo just 4 homes- that all sold at a loss. This kind of attempted government intervention has never proven to be effective. If you want to see what wholesale dollars poured into neighborhoods does- look at Twin Towers that has had a gazillion spent on new homes, social services and even their own school program. Values are still stagnant at best. Look at the Fairgrounds neighborhood- where the Genesis project poured millions in- and the city promised that it would never turn into student housing. Section 8 residents are getting the boot- so investors can house 4 UD students in illegal (supposedly) rooming houses billing by the semester. Homes built with city money are now requiring new roofs before the tax abatements are even finished.
South Park has been an organic work in progress for almost 3 decades- when the historic designation was made in 1984- it forced renovations and changes to the exteriors to conform to a stricter set of standards with oversight. This stopped many slumlords from being able to come in and quickly solve paint problems with vinyl siding and falling down porches by putting up aluminum awnings. It also bonded neighbors together- with a mission, to make sure that no one was getting anything over on the rules. It’s how I got in trouble for putting up wood grain vinyl garage doors- on a dump of a garage on a house that had been on the market for 2 years without an offer.
Secondly, the neighborhood has really good physical natural boundaries. Sort of like the Oscar Newman “defensible space” that when implemented incorrectly in Five Oaks- failed. We have Woodland Cemetery to the south, U.S. 35 to the north (which split the neighborhood from the Oregon District in the early 1960s. Wayne Ave. to the east and either Warren or Main to the west depending on whom you talk to. Good fences are said to make good neighbors- good boundaries make good neighborhoods.
Because the effort to become a historic district was organic- and home grown, it pulled the neighborhood together, and we did everything we could to try to help each other in the process of rehab and reclamation. One early investor, Dan Campbell- a union carpenter, taught me everything I know about framing and hanging drywall- which he gladly shared in exchange for help on his projects. We shared tools, we cleaned alleys together- and we worked on Home Tours to show off our work.
In the mid-1990s, I did a video about the neighborhood- a 30-minute TV program- to run on DATV and to be handed out on VHS tape. It was called “South Park Soliloquy”- and while it was meant to market the neighborhood- I stayed away from talking about the “Victorian Houses” and the rehab efforts- and talked more about the kinds of people who had chosen to live here. Instead of baroque chamber music and a stuffy voice over- it’s in the neighbors’ words- with the happy music of Buckwheat Zydeco (I traded building Buck’s first website for the rights). We started to evolved from a house centric appeal to become the “neighborhood where neighbors become friends.” The video is still on YouTube.
And although many of the neighbors who are in the video have left and a few have passed, the energy of this video continues to thrive in this neighborhood.
As part of the Genesis project- and to protect their investment, Miami Valley Hospital has funded two community-based police officers for almost twenty years. And while I can’t say that crime has decreased dramatically – there is a better connection between neighbors and the police helped create a sense of security that wasn’t here before. All neighborhoods should have their own, dedicated officers that know the community inside and out.
Neighbors also banded together to form South Park Preservation Works- a non-profit development company that took some of the worst houses in the neighborhood and stopped them from having to be demolished. A for-profit neighborhood development corporation, South Park Social Capital, was my brainchild around 1998 to try to keep the old Skinners bar from reopening- and to shut down a carry out that belonged to a drug dealer. Although the corporation failed- we now have very reputable businesses in both locations- one being the South Park Tavern and the other Oak St. Antiques.
We also worked hard at growing our social events, and doing things that weren’t your typical neighborhood events. Does your neighborhood produce Shakespeare? How about a Halloween Parade with a marching band before trick or treat? Or, dog walking flash mobs, or hot toddy parties, chili cook-offs and now social soccer Sundays? All of these contribute to a focus on quality of life issues- and knowing your neighbors. These are all post video events- you can see our porch, patio and deck parties in the video.
We’ve attracted investors other than the Gaspers and the DiFloras as well. A client of my ad agency came into the neighborhood- and wanted an office like mine. I had bought the boarded up corner grocery back in 1988 on the day the stock market imploded for $2,200 and $2,400 in back taxes. I knew of another building like it that was on the market- and they ended up buying 4 properties in the neighborhood all for $15K. One of which was the house next to the Morans- which skyrocketed in “value” according to the reappraisal.
Jim Gagnet, took the impossible project of 424 Hickory and saved it- before he brought Coco’s back to the neighborhood. He’s currently finishing up 3 more houses on Lincoln Street- one of which was a horrific looking green monster of a house- that’s now a beautiful shell. He invests here because he knows that there are others willing to invest- the planned project just South of Coco’s and the new Goodwill all bode well for him making a return.
No amount of government investment or even private capital make as much impact as the efforts of the social capital in a neighborhood. It’s not about investing in property- it’s about investing in a community. Once the projects were torn down about 4 years ago- where you had a bunch of people who weren’t necessarily there by choice, there was another burst of investment (this is where DiFlora and Gasper came in). The neighborhood was well on its way before that. One investor, Eric Segalewitz, had bought the entire block facing the projects- while they were still up. He turned the houses into hipster pads and is now about to cash out. People thought he was crazy when he bought them- they don’t now.
We’ve also been lucky enough to have some really amazing small businesses in the ‘hood that have stuck it out. A major person behind almost every volunteer effort for years has been Bill Daniels from the Pizza Factory (he also owns the South Park Tavern). He’s provided food for volunteers more times than anyone can count. He’s gone out and given coupons for free pizzas to people for doing great Christmas decorations- you don’t have that in every neighborhood- but you should. Our newish coffee house- Ghostlight, the same thing. Custom Frame Services has done the same thing over the years. When we decided to do a sculpture- we hire our neighbor Hamilton Dixon- and we have an incredible whirligig on Park Drive now.
There are more amazing things about this neighborhood than I can write- I’ve left off our urban gardens, and our food truck shindig, etc.
It’s people that make a city- not buildings and certainly not government. The sooner you figure that out, the sooner your property values will rise, too.
additional note: Monday 6 Oct- in the same edition of the Dayton Daily news- on the “editorial page” was a full page story  about Pecha Kucha Dayton – the team that puts this amazing event on- of course- 3/4 of it- lives in South Park.
another note: Tue 7 Oct. As of 2015- South Park will no longer qualify as a HUBzone according to the SBA . Another sign that things have changed.