The city of Toledo will closely monitor existing low-income, tax-credit housing projects, carefully review new projects, and work on strategies to aid several projects with large numbers of vacant units, a Bell administration official told a Toledo City Council committee Wednesday.
A recent Blade investigation found more than one-sixth of about 800 new houses built in Toledo during the last 15 years for low-income residents have become vacant. Of those, more than 100 are boarded up, stripped of plumbing and wiring or otherwise gutted, or burned out, contributing to blight rather than combatting it.
Of the 21 ventures built in Toledo since 1997, six have vacancy rates of a quarter or more.
The homes were built as part of a federal tax-credit program in which local developers are able to sell tax credits to investors, such as banks or insurance companies, to raise cash for acquisition, rehabilitation, and construction.
- Part 1: Taxpayer-aided homes sit vacant, vandalized
- Part 2: Lax oversight jeopardizes tax credit projects
- Part 3: 2 Toledo groups show tax-credit housing works
"There are no easy answers for housing tax credits. They are complicated," said Kathleen Kovacs, deputy director of the Department of Neighborhoods, addressing a meeting of council's neighborhoods committee. The meeting was called specifically to give council an update on such projects in Toledo.
The dire state of some of the houses has prompted the city to find other groups to take over a handful of the developments with the highest vacancy rates, such as those developed by neighborhood groups ONYX, the Warren Sherman Area Council, and the Toledo Community Development Corp.
"They [tax-credit deals] are very difficult to unravel midstream, so even if a project is having a problem, fixing that problem is very difficult. I would liken it to having 10 people engaged in a marriage, with 10 disparate views on what they would like out of it," said Ms. Kovacs, referring to the complex deals that involve syndicators that broker deals, for-profit investors, community development corporations acting as non-profit sponsors of projects and managing partners, and others.
"It's just not easy to unravel, and it's just not easy to solve these problems," she said.
The program is a worthwhile one, Ms. Kovacs said, as it helps add new homes to Toledo's older housing stock, represents new investment, provides employment, and creates safe and affordable housing for low-income families.
Council members also heard from groups that said, overall, the tax credit program provides an important development tool.
Lewis Ellis, executive director of Preferred Properties Inc., which develops housing for people with disabilities, said the housing units developed by his group have brought $37 million in positive economic impact to the city, while aiding seniors and the disabled.
WilliAnn Moore, board president of ONYX, said her central-city community development group was the first to develop single-family tax-credit housing projects in Toledo.
"We have fought and struggled every step of the way," she said, adding that her group struggled with its contractor and property manager.
"We're doing everything that we can do," she said, adding that other groups that have been more successful have learned from her group's experiences.
After the meeting, Councilman Adam Martinez, chairman of the neighborhoods committee, said he is satisfied with the administration's efforts to tackle problem properties and to make sure such problems don't arise again in future projects.
Councilman Paula Hicks-Hudson said the meeting confirmed the complexities of the tax-credit process.
"It seemed to confirm there is a learning curve," she said.
Concern about the program reached beyond Toledo.
The Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which is supposed to inspect tax-credit projects at least once every three years, has said the agency plans to review all single-family tax-credit homes in Toledo by Aug. 21. The agency plans to inspect all other tax-credit projects in Toledo, such as apartment buildings and senior housing facilities, by January.
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said the governor hopes the problems uncovered in Toledo are "an isolated incident as the result of a bad employee" and the director of the agency will be looking for a full account of the problems at the agency's next meeting in July.
Additionally, Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost is conducting a performance audit of the agency.
"We are very interested in terms of what they find in what broke down," Mr. Nichols said. "What allowed for this to happen? What are they doing to make sure it doesn't happen again?"
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) stated, "Let this be a wake-up call to our community that we need ongoing training in housing and community development for some organizations that are doing the most difficult work."
Contact Kate Giammarise at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.