Coalition to target neighborhood blight

6/8/2012
BY JESSICA SHOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Organizing Alliance is a new coalition that is to focus on relaying community opinions to the Lucas County Land Bank as the bank oversees a $6.8 million, 17-month initiative this year to demolish vacant properties in the city.
Toledo Organizing Alliance is a new coalition that is to focus on relaying community opinions to the Lucas County Land Bank as the bank oversees a $6.8 million, 17-month initiative this year to demolish vacant properties in the city.

Annie Walker believes abandoned foreclosed properties are to blame for the arrival of "slumlords" and the decline of quality of life in her neighborhood since the economic crisis began in 2008.

Ms. Walker, a longtime representative of the One Village Council, says the problem is citywide.

That is why she joined the Toledo Organizing Alliance, a new coalition that is to focus on relaying community opinions to the Lucas County Land Bank as the bank oversees a $6.8 million, 17-month initiative this year to demolish vacant properties in the city.

The alliance is the first formal collaboration between local groups dedicated to revitalizing neighborhoods affected by foreclosures. It held its launch Thursday at Michael's Bar and Grill.

James Jones, community organizer for the Toledo branch of Empowering & Strengthening Ohio's People, said the land bank's demolition drive prompted organizers to begin the alliance now.

"It allows us to centralize our efforts," Mr. Jones said of the land bank's upcoming initiative.

Wade Kapszukiewicz, Lucas County treasurer and chairman of the Land Bank
Wade Kapszukiewicz, Lucas County treasurer and chairman of the Land Bank

Mr. Jones said alliance members will work to ensure that demolitions occur in the neighborhoods that need them most.

Mr. Jones' organization joins the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75, Service Employees International Union Local 1, Fight for a Fair Economy Ohio, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, One Village Council, and pastors in the alliance.

Several of the groups have collaborated at the state level, but no such cooperation existed locally.

The land bank's demolitions are in response to a February settlement requiring the country's five largest mortgage lenders to pay $25 billion to the U.S. Attorney General.

For the removal of abandoned homes, Ohio will receive $75 million of settlement money, of which $3.2 million is allocated to Lucas County.

An additional $3.2 million of county money and a $400,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will provide the remaining funding, said Wade Kapszukiewicz, Lucas County treasurer and chairman of the Land Bank.

The land bank aims to demolish 900 abandoned properties between Aug. 1, when Lucas County receives its settlement money, and December 31, 2013. That, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said, will make a huge dent in the number of blighted properties in the city.

He admitted, however, that it is an ambitious target. In 2011, the land bank oversaw the demolition of 268 properties, a record for Toledo.

Yet people at Thursday's organizational session expressed confidence that the land bank will achieve its goal and accept the alliance's input. Ms. Walker said the land bank has successfully dealt with abandoned properties in her neighborhood and has listened to opinions from the community.

In speeches, Mr. Kapszukiewicz and other local officials emphasized their eagerness to cooperate with the new alliance.

Anita Lopez, Lucas County auditor, told alliance members not to hesitate to alert her to vacant properties, reminding them that they can find her phone number on every gas pump in the county.

Contact Jessica Shor at: jshor@theblade.com or 419-724-6516.