bipartisan bill would provide funding to demolish vacant and blighted homes

Against a backdrop of vacant, foreclosed homes and empty lots, U.S. Representatives Steve LaTourette and Marcia Fudge this week unveiled the bipartisan Restore Our Neighborhoods Act of 2012. The new legislation seeks to provide $4 billion to states and land banks to issue 30-year demolition bonds to demolish vacant, blighted homes across the country.

"This country needs to come to the realization that sometimes you just need to tear it down and start over," LaTourette told an audience of city leaders and community development professionals outside of a vacant home on E. 69th Street in Slavic Village. LaTourette stressed that the foreclosure crisis is not just an urban problem; it affects the Lake County communities he represents, too. "Vacant homes drag down property values and can lead to crime."

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge noted that more than 40 percent of the homes on E. 69th Street off Union Avenue were either vacant or foreclosed. A block away, a woman was recently dragged into a vacant property and raped.

Currently, only 10 percent of funds from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) can be used for demolition. The bill would change that by allowing greater flexibility in how NSP funds can be used. It would also provide more than $40 million in Qualified Urban Demolition Bonds to every state, with additional funding flowing to states like Ohio that are considered "hardest hit" by the foreclosure crisis. Any unused allocation would be redistributed by the Secretary of the Treasury after two years to "qualified" states (including Ohio).

Fudge and LaTourette stressed that the legislation would be budget neutral, as there are at least two possible offsets under consideration for the $4 billion cost.

City and county leaders said the legislation is not only about removing blight, but also clearing the way for future redevelopment of neighborhoods. "We want to see a city that's thriving and bustling," said Gus Frangos, President of the Cuyahoga Land Bank. "This is about creating a new vision for our neighborhoods."

Although more than 6,000 vacant homes in Cleveland have been demolished in the past five to seven years, there are still more than 12,000 condemned or blighted homes throughout the city. Throughout Cuyahoga County, there are estimated to be 25,000 to 30,000 blighted or condemned properties in need of demolition.

"This is a $250-million problem," said Frangos. "That number is much greater than we can handle, no matter how strategic we are with our resources."

Source: Steve LaTourette, Marcia Fudge, Gus Frangos
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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