Wednesday, March 3, 2010

City Responds to Knox Hill Hud Complaint: Response "Lacking"

The Knox Hill Neighborhood Association which is in the planning stages of Historic registry Nomination, formally complained to HUD over the city's lack of a proper section 106 process. The 106 process is required whenever Federal tax dollars are used to demolish property more than 50 years old whether or not a historic district is involved.

In the city's initial response, Neighborhood leaders were encouraged somewhat, but found the city process inadequate and lacking in allowing proper 106 review.

In a written response from Larry Harris , Urban Conservation officer for the city he noted that revisions to our section 106 review would include:

  • City Departments will post information relating to individual projects for which Federal funds are being utilized on the departments website

  • City Departments will provide a process by which public comments related to individual projects are received by the department and forwarded to the Urban Conservator for consideration during Section 106 review process.

Those changes are supposed to take place April 5 ,2010

That response was considered by community leaders to be "seriously lacking". As one Knox Hill Board Member, Greg Drake put it, "If they have developed a 'new process' they certainly didn't bother to get input from our neighborhood or as far as I can tell any neighborhood".

The city has for example maintained that properties demoed in Knox Hill were not demoed with federal funds but the neighborhood has asked for city documentation on properties demoed within the city in 2008 and 2009 and a funding breakdown. The city has failed to provide those document's. Meaning that neighborhoods must essentially "take the city's word" as to what funds were used.

Preservationists, not just from Knox Hill, but other neighborhoods are concerned that the city may be performing "fund shuffling" to circumvent Section 106 review by deciding to use City funds for demo rather than Federal funds when they suspect that there may be opposition to demo of a house based on its Historic value. But without review of prior demolitions many suspect the city may not have bothered which funding they used when they cut checks to demo contractors and may be "caught with their pants down". As one neighborhood resident said" If they haven't done anything wrong then why haven't they produced the paperwork the neighborhood asked for about demo activity in 2008 and 2009 and what funds paid for it. We are supposed to take their word for it?"

The City has maintained that the "Nuisance Board" hearings provide a public input into the process of 106 review. The neighborhood position is that since the city sends information to the Conservator prior to the Nuisance hearing ( who holds no public hearings) that the decision is already made and neighborhoods have no input.

The neighborhood contends that at the point a building is declared a public nuisance, the city has no reasonable way of pre-determining what funding will be used to demo since the purpose of the Nuisance Board hearing is to order the property owner to demo the building or bring it to compliance.

It is only if the owner doesn't do that, the city them proceeds with demolition That process could be a few months or over a year. There is no way of determining what funds were used and the city has failed to provide that information when asked.

Under the current process it is the neighborhood contention that ALL property, even property in historic districts is at risk since the city receiving opposition to a particular project can just "fund' it differently, thereby circumventing the Federal process by using local fund which require no review.

Preservation advocates have advocate that all demolition , even those using city taxpayer funds should have some sort of historic review. That would prevent, "funding shuffle' to circumvent federal guidelines. As neighborhoods like Knox Hill and Sedamsville proceed to Historic registry status, they find themselves in a race against the city which seems intent on demoing everything in site. Often the properties have no structural issues, are just neglected and could be restored.

Knox Hill has seen a 200 Percent increase in the number of properties on the Keep Vacant/VBML condemn list in just the last year those properties are potentially just a step or two away from Nuisance Declaration and demolition. The foreclosure crisis has exacerbated this issue with the city often taking properties from a broken window to condemn status in less than 4 months during the time a property owner has "walked away" from a property and the bank begins foreclosure proceedings. they are issuing orders to property owners who have walked away from property, told the city the bank owns it, and by the time the bank actually gets the property which is difficult to resell it with condemn orders on it because potential buyers cannot get bank loans on condemned property.

Many have said this amounts to "governmental redlining" of many neighborhood, as thanks to the overzealous actions of the City Vacant building task force, even existing property owners cannot get refinancing or insurance because of all the property the city has rendered in their neighborhood, impossible to buy due to city orders. The Knox Hill Neighborhood is putting the finishing touches on a proposal they hope to take to state legislators on how to resolve this issue. The city has repeatedly denied "fast tracking" but neighborhood leader state that fast tracking does occur and they have proof.

The Neighborhood Association has forwarded their reply to the city and HUD and are seeking additional review and potential audits to determine if the city has proper accounting procedures in place to insure that Federal fund have not been inadvertently allocated for demo, as well as further clarification as to what this "new process' changes will be implemented in April.

The neighborhood wants to work with the city on this issue and if hopefully the city will find it in its best interests to work with neighborhoods rather than against them.

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