Friday, October 23, 2009

The "Big Picture" of Cincinnati Demolition Policy: Part 4

In other posts in this series we have detailed the issues, talked about how the demolitions happen and how we got to a situation we are in. Today I'd like to discuss how other cities deal with these issue and how Cincinnati can learn from other approaches.


Cincinnati is not unique with a vacant property problem. Many city's' have similar problems but their approach is different and that is something we need to learn from and adopt.


Cincinnati Government leaders have a"bulldoze mentality' they believe the quickest way to solve the problem of "blight" is to take bulldozer and knock it down. It is known in urban planning circles as the "Detroit Model" of Urban renewal and just about every city and urban planner has long abandoned that approach. The "Detroit Model" was that if you bulldoze or "clear' blighted neighborhood that new development would move in. The problem was that in bulldozing historic architecture the city lost one of its main draws and the "back to the city' movement that has been so successful in Cities like Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville passed by Detroit.

Businesses look at a variety of things when deciding to expand or relocate. Today one of those key 'quality of life' issues is close Urban neighborhoods that will appeal to younger workers who consider their time as valuable and do not want to spend hours in long commutes. Cincinnati has successful neighborhoods like that , Columbia Tusculum and Mt Adams but there is not enough neighborhoods like that for Cincinnati to compete with other major Midwestern cities for new business.


In MOST cities, the idea of bulldozing a 100 year old house would be met with packed city council meeting, cries of outrage, editorials in the newspapers and lawsuits and injunctions. Most cities have realized the value of these properties and would not think of bulldozing them. While other cities are getting it right and growing their Urban neighborhoods we are still following the 30 year Old Detroit model.


If you look at New Orleans after Katrina, they made extraordinary efforts to save their old buildings. Small shotgun cottages and camelbacks cottages were carefully lifted from their foundations, reinforced and rebuilt. Many were literally reconstructed when only one wall remained. WHY? Well New Orleans realized years ago that their historic architecture was
their "hook'. The city has created thousands of jobs in the Historic Tourism and hospitality industry.

Those quaint historic neighborhoods are a major attraction to companies who are deciding to relocate there. That combined with lively entertainment and shopping districts give New Orleans an edge over other cities in that region.


The same can be said of Charleston SC after Hugo. The aftermath of Hugo allowed that historic city to embark on a mission to restore its historic structures. Neighborhoods that had been on
hard times benefited from Federal disaster monies. Charleston has some of the highest properly values in the nation and one of the most stable real estate markets because its historic architecture is so highly valued. Historic Tourism is a multi million dollar industry there.


Other cities are dealing with blighted properties so looking at how they do it may give us insight into ways to improve. Most cities take a "holistic" approach to blighted properties. They also deal closely with neighborhood associations and community leaders who funnel key issues to inspections. They use a 'targeted approach' rather than a hit and miss one.


Indianapolis for example will do "problem property sweeps'. Under these sweeps several properties, perhaps an entire block will be inspected. Its not just building inspections, the health department inspects, the police department is there (in case illegal activity is spotted and for security) CPS may be on call. Using this technique the city has been able to shut down problem properties. Get them into responsible hands and turnaround neighborhoods.


St Louis works closely with Neighborhood block units, concerned teams of area residents who volunteer their time to help the city identify problem properties. Sometime these issues can be resolved by these block units by contacted a property owner or pointing a tenant in a problem property to a resource. St Louis has a broader definition of nuisance property that includes: sales of drugs, excessive noise/disturbing the peace, prostitution or gang activity, firearms, open buildings and zoning violations such as auto repair work or non permitted home businesses.


A suspected nuisance is reported to the Citizen Service Bureau. A designated reporter can be a police officer, Alderman, group of 3 or more residents, or the Neighborhood Stabilization Officer.


The reported nuisance is referred to the Director of Public Safety who will assess the emergency nature of the situation. If the conditions are determined to be of an immediate danger to residents or neighbors, the Director will refer the situation immediately and bill the detailed costs of abatement (correction or repair not bulldozing) to property owner.

If the reported nuisance is not an emergency, the situation is forwarded to the Neighborhood Stabilization Team's Problem Property Coordinator who compiles detail regarding the case to be submitted for review by a Special Committee meeting every 2 weeks. The Special Committee consists of the Director of Public Safety or representative, the Building Commissioner, the Director of Neighborhood Stabilization and the Citizen Service Bureau, an Assistant City Counselor and the Problem Property Coordinator.


The property owner is given no more than 30 days to abate the nuisance. If the owner fails to correct the situation, the case is referred for a hearing.


Penalties will include the cost of the abatement process, making the cost of the nuisance abatement a special assessment against the property to be collected at the same time and in the same manner as real property taxes. The special assessment is subject to the same penalties in case of delinquency as provided for real property taxes. Furthermore, fines will be assessed of no less than $100.00 nor more than $500.00 for each day the owner or tenant remains in noncompliance. In addition to a fine, the court may sentence the property owner to not more than 90 days imprisonment, and/or vacate the building, condemning it for occupancy for a period of up to one (1) year.


Note: properties are condemned for occupancy but they are not bulldozed!


The City of Raliegh, NC deals with problem properties in a unique way when it comes to rentals they tie violation to retaining a property rental permit that isrequired by law to rent out a property in that city. The vast majority of all problem properties are rentals.


For housing and nuisance issues, a period of time will be allowed for the property owner to bring the property into compliance. If the property owner fails to do this within the allotted time, a civil penalty will be imposed. In some cases, the nuisance will be taken care of by the City and billed back to the property owner; the property owner will be required to obtain a probationary rental occupancy permit (PROP) for that unit. The PROP will remain in effect for two years, when it will expire if no further violations occur at the same property. If further violations occur, much higher fines will be imposed and the property owner’s ability to rent the unit may be withheld for up to a two-year period. Landlords who have a pattern of repeat citations at a rental property also must obtain the permit.


The Raleigh City Council adopted the probationary rental occupancy permit ordinance to reduce the likelihood that tenant-occupied housing accommodations will become public nuisances in violation of City codes. This program promotes responsible management of tenant-occupied housing. Assist in providing a safe habitat for residents and neighbors of tenant-occupied housing,
Safeguard property values. Reduce the likelihood that unsafe or unfit housing will exist or be occupied and, expedite the repair of residential housing accommodations where code violations occur.

The City of Raleigh’s regulations, including the PROP, are designed to encourage the property owner to comply with regulations. If a property owner is actively working to resolve the problem, City inspectors will attempt to work with them. But if the property owner chooses not to respond to correcting violations, the PROP ordinance gives the City the ability to remove the property owners’ right to rent the unit.


Clearly a pattern of early intervention and aggressive enforcement and REAL PENALTIES work. We need to adopt a more aggressive , proactive stance utilizing community leaders as our eyes and ears so overworked inspectors can deal with priority issues form the neighborhood.


Next Time: Final part what this all means and how we move forward.

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