Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The need for neighborhood based Historic Salvage Centers

Every year the city bulldozes houses., for no reason other than they meet the definition of "blight" they may not have any structural problems they just don't look pretty and uninformed neighbors who don't realize the importance of an intact neighborhood complain.

This is a "no win' for the city, the neighborhood, and the taxpayers. It costs 12-15,000.00, or more, to demo a house, more if there are asbestos issues. The city is left with a lien and must often wait years before the taxes are not paid and the city can obtain the property, during which time the city usually winds up cutting the lot (occasionally). the neighborhood goes from having an unsightly house on their lot top an overgrown lot.
There are hundreds of homes on the city condemn list right now. Some of these may be saved by neighborhood groups finding people willing to take the risk and deal with mountain of paperwork required to get a house off the list and on the path to restoration, Others are simply doomed,
The city has a hazard abatement plan as reported in Building Cincinnati

The program is seriously underfunded to do anything on a large scale. Why not try a different approach. Typically by the time a property has reached this stage the owner has "given up' on trying to do anything with the property. The city could start a pilot program and I would be happy for our neighborhood, Knox Hill, to be the "Test Area".

The city should make a deal with the owner: First of all the city "rarely' collects any money for the demo costs anyway so why not make the following deal. If you will allow a local neighborhood group to salvage materials from the house prior to demolition and agree to sign over the lot to the city we will forgive the demo lien.
Why should the city do this? There are several logical cost effective reasons. First land fill costs are a huge part of the demolition. Everything you can save off a house, The less that goes to the landfill. Old houses even 'blighted" ones , have value. Many of these homes have Mantles, Light fixtures, porch parts, brackets, Door locks, built ins, stair railings, newel posts, beaded board, flooring, claw foot tubs, tiles ALL of which anyone restoring a house needs and often pays outrageous prices for. This drives up the cost of restoration making restoration not cost effective in many neighborhoods. If you can reduce the costs you make houses more viable as restoration candidates.

Neighborhood volunteers would remove those items from the house on a date and time specified by the city. Some sort of Liability waivers can be created and signed by the volunteers releasing the city from financial liability. The neighborhood group resells these materials and uses the monies to supply facade grants for low income and elderly residents or as a fund to buy and stabilize endangered property in the neighborhood.
Once the house is demoed the vacant lot owned by the city can be sold to an adjacent property owner for a nominal fee or donated to a community group for Urban gardens or a neighborhood maintained thumbnail park or resold to a developer to build a new Historically compatible infill home.
In fact if the program could be expanded beyond the pilot stage the city could take a city owned property (say in OTR) and create a neighborhood "Salvage Warehouse" where neighborhood groups would bring the salvage, It would be cataloged and tagged as from that neighborhood and the proceeds from the sales would go to that neighborhoods "Community reinvestment fund"
The "Restore Cincinnati Salvage Center" would be open on weekends and staffed by volunteers from the neighborhoods. Schools could even get involved in the demo work as part of a building trades vocational program.
This is not a new idea, It has been done successfully in several cities. Burlington Iowa has has a program for years called "preservation station' :
Greensboro N.Carolina has a city/community partnered project. Architectural Salvage of Geensboro. ASG is a nationally recognized, non-profit volunteer project of Preservation Greensboro, Incorporated, with support from the City of Greensboro. The project is to rescue and recycle materials from historic structures when they are remodeled or demolished, and return profits to the community through a grant program for historic residences. Volunteer S.W.A.T. (Saving Worn Architectural Treasures) teams*, supervised by volunteer professionals, carefully retrieve authentic materials from buildings. Donors may claim a tax deduction for charitable contributions. Salvaged materials are lightly cleaned and prepared for retail sale at the showroom.
Other cities have clearly demonstrated that this is possible, Why Can't Cincinnati?


matt said...

I'd love to be involved in something like this. I've heard this idea thrown around a few times, but am certainly less qualified to talk about it than you are. There are a few little construction reuse sites around town, but not really with a historical restoration bent. Maybe if their might be a way to team with some of those architectural antiques places on Central Parkway with semi-skilled laborers looking for jobs, and maybe an unused warehouse in Brewery District (lord knows there are enough of them) and we could have a skills school/restoration center.

Paul Wilham said...

There will be a big demand for restoration contractors and skilled cxraftsman over te next 10-15 years in Cincinnati as restoration efforts ramp up.

Restoration of Historic Properties require specialized skills and knowledge that the typical "remodling contractors' lack. people who 'know what they are doing" make very good money in this field.

Personally I think the local school system needs a good vocational training class that focuses on Historic Restoration.

Bob said...

All great ideas that should be implemented, but I'm beginning to think that this backwards-city will never get it's act together in our lifetime.