U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today sent a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich urging him to aggressively pursue all options that would enable Ohio to tap-into additional funds to demolish vacant structures, which pose a growing threat to the public safety and economic well-being of our communities. The State of Michigan recently reached a landmark agreement with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to allow the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to create a blight elimination program for demolition purposes using Michigan's Hardest Hit Fund allotment.
"Ohio cities need more resources to demolish abandoned homes that dot the streets of too many communities. The Obama Administration recently reached a landmark agreement with the State of Michigan to open the Hardest Hit Fund for demolition purposes, and I urge the State of Ohio to reach a similar agreement," Portman said. "But given the uncertainty in this process, I will also continue to lead a legislative effort to permanently allow these funds to be used for demolition."
In the letter, Portman presses Kasich "to work aggressively with the Treasury Department to establish a similar agreement to allow Ohio's allotment to also be used for demolition purposes." In addition, he pushes the Governor "to request as large of an amount as possible to be used for demolition purposes."
Last week, Portman introduced the Neighborhood Safety Act, which simply states that any amounts of assistance that have been allocated through the Hardest Hit Fund program may be used to demolish blighted structures. The legislation has since been endorsed by the Mayors of Lima, Mansfield, Middletown, Warren, and Youngstown, as well as the Health Commissioner of the City of Portsmouth, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.
Over $7 billion of Hardest Hit Funds have been appropriated, but are not presently allowed to be used for demolition in states such as Ohio. States that experienced the sharpest decline in home prices during the economic downturn received these funds to help struggling homeowners refinance.
Ohio has nearly 100,000 vacant properties awaiting demolition, posing a significant risk to public safety and drastically decreasing the value of surrounding properties. Municipalities and local land banks have worked collaboratively to demolish vacant properties, but with municipal budgets already stretched, there is little money available to tackle this problem. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Representatives David Joyce (R-OH-14), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11).
The full text of the letter is below.
Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117
Dear Governor Kasich,
As you know, cities across our state are still recovering from the effects of the housing collapse. As cities -- both large and small -- have attempted to recover, they have been hindered by the thousands of abandoned homes that are lining the streets of communities in our state. In fact, some estimate that Ohio has nearly 100,000 vacant properties awaiting demolition. These abandoned properties represent a serious risk to public safety and are havens for crime and unwanted activity. Additionally, vacant properties have an enormous negative impact on surrounding property values.
I have been impressed by the work of land banks and municipalities throughout Ohio who have proactively gotten involved in this important issue. To support their efforts, I recently introduced a piece of legislation, The Neighborhood Safety Act, which would allow the Hardest Hit Fund to be used for demolition purposes. As you may know, the Hardest Hit Fund made over $7 billion available to housing finance agencies in states that had experienced the greatest declines in home prices during the housing collapse.
It is my understanding that Ohio has used less than 40 percent of its $570 million allotment since the funds were made available over three years ago. Given that the Hardest Hit Fund is intended to aid struggling homeowners and distressed neighborhoods, it only seems consistent that this fund could also be used for demolition purposes by state housing finance agencies, such as the Ohio Housing Finance Authority that is responsible for distributing these funds in our state.
I understand that the State of Michigan recently reached a landmark agreement with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to allow the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to create a blight elimination program for demolition purposes using Michigan's Hardest Hit Fund allotment. Given this important development, I urge the state of Ohio to work aggressively with the Treasury Department to establish a similar agreement to allow Ohio's allotment to also be used for demolition purposes. Further, given the vast number of abandoned properties across our state, I urge the state to request as large of an amount as possible to be used for demolition purposes.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.