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Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Published: Monday, 2/24/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

Use common sense in city housing policy

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Let’s begin with the crazy stuff and try to reason our way back to sanity.

● Six condominiums are built on Dorr Street for $900,000 and priced at $100,000 each — a project that begins $300,000 in the hole. None sold for $100,000. In fact, only one sold at all. The price for the remaining “Dorr Street Brownstones” units is now $69,000. If interested, call the Metropolitan Housing Authority, which owns these lemons.

● People who know something about real estate, like Councilman Rob Ludeman, were skeptical from the start. But the city had federal money to subsidize the dreams of a now-defunct but never solid community development group called ONYX — “Organized Neighbors Yielding Excellence.” And federal money isn’t real, right?

● ONYX also built, with blessings from the city, through which more federal funds were funneled, 80 homes. They cost $100,000 to build and were sold for $30,000. Again, mind the gap.

● Now the Land Bank owns many of these homes, and the city and Land Bank have begun to identify some of them as past repair.Thirty are on their way to demolition with more to come. The consensus is that the homes weren’t well built. But some who know these homes have a hard time believing so many really have to be destroyed.

● Even with these spectacular failures, the city gave ONYX federal community development money as recently as the 2008-09 fiscal year.

● This is still going on. A combination of private funders, federal funds, and state aid is bankrolling new homes in the Olde Towne neighborhood. The project may be better thought out than the ONYX fiascos. But, by at least one calculation, each home will cost $260,000. If you are not at least a little skeptical, you’re better man than I am.

Remember the bridge to nowhere? This was the housing for nobody. With monopoly money.

All this came out at a hearing of the City Council neighborhoods committee, chaired by Councilman Jack Ford.

Mr. Ford wondered aloud how such stewardship could have seemed sensible to anyone. He said we had badly “missed the point” in housing policy. He asked if, instead of tearing down houses, we might try urban homesteading. No answers were forthcoming.

I’m a card-carrying bleeding heart. But maybe we let the market do its thing on housing. Save our help for individuals.

The day of this hearing, I attended a meeting at Family House, the shelter for homeless families. One man asked why we are tearing down homes when so many people are homeless?

There is no good answer to that question either.

Going forward, Mr. Ford says the biggest thing we need are real and binding feasibility studies — before the building starts.

Let’s start with two simple principles: We don’t tear down homes when people are homeless. And we don’t build homes for nobody, with money we pretend isn’t real.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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