Despite a looming foreclosure, tenants of more than 80 central city tax credit houses should stay in their homes, city and legal aid officials said Wednesday night.
“Our first message to you is — don't panic,” Kathleen Kovacs, deputy director of the Department of Neighborhoods, told a packed elementary school auditorium. “We want you to stay in your homes. Keep paying your rent.”
The homes, built in the late 1990s as part of a federal tax-credit program for affordable housing, will be foreclosed on within weeks, Lourdes Santiago, director of department, told nearly 50 residents at a meeting meant to inform tenants. The city’s goal is to bring the homes under new management, she said.
The meeting grew contentious several times.
“It’s our homes,” one woman called out. “We have our homes on the line.”
Melodi Parker, who has lived in her house on Belmont Avenue for 14 years, said she has been paying her rent into an escrow account for nearly two years because of poor upkeep by her home’s owner.
Numerous tenants were angry or confused about issues with possible water disconnection because of a large outstanding balance by the homes’ owner.
The houses were built by the nonprofit community development group Organized Neighbors Yielding eXcellence. The approximately 80 parcels are tax delinquent, with about $127,000 owed in back taxes, according to the Lucas County Treasurer’s office.
ONYX and more than 80 houses it built in central Toledo in the late 1990s were highlighted in a recent Blade investigation that found many of the homes had since been boarded up. The houses were built as part of a federal tax-credit program in which local developers can sell tax credits to investors, such as banks, to raise funds for acquisition, rehabilitation, and construction. The Blade found vacant tax-credit properties blighting several city neighborhoods — boarded up, stripped of plumbing and wiring, or otherwise gutted, or burned out.
Among the most distressed developments are Toledo Homes I and II — 86 homes developed by ONYX in the central city neighborhood east of downtown and south of Dorr Street.
WilliAnn Moore, ONYX’s board president, who was at the meeting, said criticism of her and her agency was unfair.
“I am not hiding. I am here. I want these people to own the homes,” she said, referring to the mission of the program of eventual home ownership after 15 years of renting. “That is my only concern here.”
In August, the city took ONYX to court, saying the nonprofit group owed more than $30,000 combined in principal and interest on a promissory note it failed to pay; a common pleas judge handed down a swift ruling in the city’s favor, ordering ONYX to surrender “money, property, or credits” to the city.
Other tax-credit projects across the city have ended up with different ownership other than their initial developer.
More than 50 houses in the near-downtown neighborhood close to Bancroft and Cherry streets in the Warren Sherman Flats development are in foreclosure.
The Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority is exploring taking over 83 single-family homes that are part of three developments, mainly on Fernwood, Norwood, and Palmwood avenues, built by the Toledo Community Development Corporation.
At Wednesday’s meeting at Samuel M. Jones at Gunckel Park Elementary School, two lawyers from Advocates for Basic Legal Equality attended to inform tenants of their rights. “This foreclosure is not an eviction,” stated Toby Fey, emphasizing that tenants should not leave their homes.
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