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Published: Wednesday, 6/26/2013

Preventing demolitions

Ohio has $375 million available for “foreclosure prevention.” But U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is recommending that fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich spend most of those funds on home demolition. In a letter to the governor, Mr. Portman urged the administration to “request as large of an amount as possible to be used for demolition purposes.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, however, says the amount targeted toward demolition should be about 25 percent of the $375 million pot, which would still leave plenty for foreclosure prevention programs, including mortgage crisis counselors.

Mr. Brown has the better plan for Ohio and Toledo.

To be sure, Toledo could use more money for demolition. The city has almost 1,000 homes ready for the wrecking ball. But, even more desperately, the city needs to keep people in their homes, save marginal houses, and preserve neighborhoods.

Blighted homes are a public safety hazard and an eyesore. But so are graded lots and rubble. The more pressing need is to keep people in their homes.

This year, Ohio received $93 million as part of a legal recompense from mortgage companies for the irresponsible mortgage practices that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. Attorney General Mike DeWine dedicated $75 million to housing demolition, including $3.7 million for Toledo.

That amount was matched by $3.2 million from the county land bank and $400,000 from the city of Toledo. The plan is to raze 800 to 900 homes over 18 months.

The Ohio Coalition on Homelessness and Housing’s Bill Faith says he supports demolition as a means to address blight — but not at the expense of foreclosure prevention. He says the $75 million demolition fund is ample, and that less than 25 percent of that fund has been spent so far.

“The [foreclosure prevention] money is needed for prevention,” Mr. Faith says. “Why gut a program that’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do?”

Moreover, avoiding unnecessary foreclosures will decrease the need for future demolitions. Cities could and should reclaim some homes for homeless families. If even 100 of those 800 Toledo homes could be saved, it would mean 100 fewer holes in neighborhoods and 100 families who are not homeless.



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