The city of Kent has its sights set on demolishing about a dozen vacant and blighted homes this summer through the Moving Ohio Forward program, an effort to help stabilize local property values.
That's not to say all of them will be reduced to rubble, though. If any of the homes begin to show signs of life such as repairs or sales, Kent Community Development Director Bridget Susel said the city won't need to bring out the bulldozer.
"Occupied homes stabilize property values. They create a sense of neighborhood and community," Susel said.
All of the homes on the city's demolition list have sat vacant for at least two years. One of them, 615 Crain Ave., has sat unoccupied for nearly a decade. Another home, at 492 Laurel Drive on the city's west side, was damaged by fire and has been unoccupied for several years. Both homes date to the early 1940s.
The current list of Kent houses facing demolition includes:
130 W. Elm St.
459 Needham Ave.
1070 Norwood St.
615 Crain Ave.
492 Laurel Drive
535 Bowman Drive
336 Silver Meadows Blvd.
509 Franklin Ave.
551 Cherry St.
224 Cherry St.
645 Mae St.
1547/1549 Statesman Place
Houses that fall into blight, typically after being ditched by owners after foreclosure, can hold a multitude of issues that negatively impact neighboring property values.
Exterior and interior disrepair, vermin infestations, vandalism and squatting are all unfortunate results of homes that are forgotten by their owners or the banks that foreclosed on them, Susel said.
"Location is everything when you're trying to sell a home and if you're unfortunate enough to have one of those properties that have fallen into significant blight next to you, you're going to have to sell your house at a discounted price," she said, noting that the process can cause a negative chain reaction throughout a neighborhood.
The first house that's likely to get the bulldozer this summer, located at 509 Franklin Ave., may come down with a lot less struggle than the city initially anticipated. The home has been unoccupied since 2007, when it was damaged by fire.
The city of Kent issued an adjudication order in February, beginning the process to demolish the home, which the owner was in the process of appealing to the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals. Recently, the owner instead decided to relinquish control of the house to the city through a quit claim deed, allowing Kent to move forward on demolition.
At the May BZA meeting, Kent's chief building official Robert Nitzsche estimated that bringing the house up to code could cost anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000.
"I think (the owner) did a cost benefit analysis while he was sitting in the audience, and then asked his attorney to talk to the city's attorney," Susel said.
Two homes, located at 429 Harris St. and 261 McKinney Blvd., have sold since adjudication orders were issued, and there have also been signs of activity at 244 Cherry St. and 645 Mae St., Susel said.
"Our goal is to get homes occupied, so when we see evidence like 429 Harris and 261 McKinley, that they've actually been bought and there's people moving into them, that is fantastic," she said. "To me, this program did what it needed to do, which is push the bank or the owner to actually get it to someone that actually wants to use it as a home."
The funding source for removing blighted properties comes through the settlement of a 47-state class action lawsuit against the five largest mortgage holding companies in the country for predatory lending and foreclosure policies that helped cause the housing markets to collapse four years ago.
Based directly on foreclosure data per county, Portage County was given $812,000 from the Ohio Attorney General's Office to raze blighted residential properties. Any local municipality participating in the Portage County Land Reutilization Corporation has access to the funds.
"It is extremely difficult to find money to tear down blighted properties, so when this money presented itself, I made sure we identified those [structures] that have been trouble for us," Susel said.
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